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Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2010 

Walking Heads, p. 2 

collective editorial 

Letters, p. 5 

from our readers 

KouN LoK, p. 12 

Exile on Market St. by Mickey D. 

Get The Message: 

Mercury Rising Has Risen!, p. 16 

interview by Chris Carlsson 

Pond Hopping, p. 22 

Exile on Market St. by Frog 

A Briton In Exile, p. 24 

Exile on Market St. by Iguana Mente 

Where And Back Again, p. 

Exile on Market St. by D.S. Black 


Summer/ Fall 1992 • Issue 29 
ISSN 0735-9381 

Poetry, p. 32 

John Ross, loanna-Veronika, David Fox, Farouk 
Asvat, Alejandro Murguia, Clifton Ross 

Exiles in the Heartland, p. 35 

Exile on Market St. by Kwazee Wabbit 

Downtime!, p. 38 

Paperslutting by Stella, VDT Law Fails, 
This Is Now by Tom Athanasiou 

Sabotage Stories, p. 41 

Excerpts from a new book 

edited by Martin Sprouse with Lydia Ely 

Same Old, Same Old, p. 46 

fiction by Summer Brenner 


N4arriages of Inconvenience, p. 50 

Exile on Market St. by Marinus Horn as told to 
Louis Michaelson 

Blood Money, p. 52 

Tale of Toil by Faye Manning 

Commie To America, p. 54 

Exile on Market St. by Salvador Ferret 

Reviews, p. 57 

I'm Uprooted, Now I'm Home by Med-o 
Ingenuity And Its Enemies by Chris Carlsson 

The Swineherd, p. 62 

Tale of Toil by Mark Menkes 

Front Cover: Tom Tomorrow 
Back Cover: Tracy Cox 

PW COLLECTIVE: Primitive Morales, Mickey D., Frog, D.S. Black, Chris Carlsson, Louis Michaelson, Denim Dada, Kwazee Wabbit, JRS, Zoe Noe, 
Ellen K., Iguana Mente, Mark B., La Czarina, Severin Head, Curtis Interruptus, Other Contributors to PW 29: Markus, Jennie, Shelley Fern Diamond, 
Ace Backwords, Tom Tomorrow, I.B. Nelson, Tu-Lan Restaurant, Traveller's Liquors, Melissa Roberts, Med-o, Clayton Sheridan, Doug Minkler, Chaz 
Bufe, Angela Socage, Joven, The Stranger, Solly Malulu, Hugh D'Andrade, no thanks to the worthless distributors at Routledge, Margot Pepper, Rick Gerharter, 
Martin Sprouse, Lydia Ely, So Fun, Karen, J.F. Batellier, Dapper Dave, and many others whose names we can't remember right now. . . 

The material in Processed World reflects the ideas and fantasies of the specific authors and artists, and not necessarily those of other contributors, editors 
or BACAT. Processed World is a project of the Bay Area Center for Art & Technology (BACAT), a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation. BACAT can be 
contacted at 1095 Market Street, #209, San Francisco, CA 94103; PW or BACAT may be phoned at (415) 626-2979 or faxed at (415) 626-2685. Processed 
World is collectively edited and produced. Nobody gets paid (except the printer, the Post Office/UPS and the landlord). We welcome comments, letters, 
and submissions (no originals!). Write us at 41 Sutter St. #1829, San Francisco, CA 94104. Processed World is indexed in the Alternative Press Index. 



he Processed World office is 
located on Market Street, near San 
Francisco's Civic Center. Down the 
hall is the world headquarters for the 
Wobblies (the Industrial Workers of 
the World — I WW). Across the 
street is the empty Odd Fellows' 
building. On United Nations Plaza, 
Food Not Bombs feeds the hungry 
and homeless, risking arrest and 
persecution from City Hall (since 
January, headed by an ex-police 
chief mayor) while an AIDS vigil 
enters its seventh year. We are 
surrounded by the ruins of Market 
Society: an abandoned Greyhound 
station, seedy bars and liquor stores, 
and an earthquake-damaged, ap- 
parently condemned U.S. Court of 
Appeals and Post Office building. 
Contemporary urban nomads — the 
homeless — strive to make a home in 
makeshift doorway shelters, shoot- 
ing galleries and shopping cart/tent 

The physical world we inhabit was 
created by humans — not freely, but in 
the service of capital. Abandoned in- 
dustrial rustbelt towns like Pullman, 
Illinois, or Gary, Indiana, are entirely 
the product of market relations, socially 
and spatially organized to meet indu- 
strialists' needs for labor and resources. 
When the factories close there is little to 
keep people there. Some people escape, 
either by luck or by education — but 
where can they escape to? 

We live in an era of unprecedented 
economic globalism. Multinational 
capital can shift production (e.g. tex- 
tiles) from Montrecil to Mexico to 
Malaysia to Los Angeles. Technology 
makes faraway places more accessible: 
railroads, photographs, satellites, and 
computers collapse space and time. 
Decisions made in London or New York 
boardrooms have immediate conse- 
quences for people on the other side of 
the world. While entertainment techno- 
logies slowly homogenize world cultures 
into Disneyish Hollywood mediocrity, 
cheap transportation and tourism en- 
courage long-distance dispersion and 
the widening reach of market relations 
into the most obscure and isolated 

corners of the globe. 

As we sojourn our way into the gray 
90s, the solution favored by today's 
hardline leaders to poverty and dis- 
placement is to create new homelands 
for the homeless. The Berlin Wall may 
have fallen, but a new fence has risen 
near San Diego, to stem the "human 
flood" from Latin America. Woe to 
those "outsiders" — the grubby homeless, 
the swart gevaar (black peril), yellow 
menace, wetbacks, and other bogeys — 
who demagogues attack as undesirable. 
In the posturing that passes for politics, 
politicos everywhere are scrambling to 
score points on this issue — this is, after 
all, an election year. 

Today we see the largest population 
movements in history, within nations, 
continents and around the planet. Mo- 
bile, migrant, temporary, "precarious" 
work is becoming dominant with the 
collapse of welfare states and the rise of 
two-tiered societies. As the British band 
Gang of Four put it, "a force called hard 
cash moves my feet." We move from one 
job to another as employers "downsize" 
firms, cut production, transfer work 
elsewhere, demand "flexibility," or until 
we just can't stand the monotony of 

photo by D.S. Black 

work and social life and vote with our 

Racism and bigotry are bursting from 
beneath the surface as every society 
faces new stratifications and increasing- 
ly raw competition. "English Only" laws 
have been passed in state after state. In 
Southern California, yahoos organize 
Lights-Across-the-Border campaigns to 
intimidate Mexican immigrants, while 
around the country Black nationalists 
whip up hysteria against Koreans in 
scattered urban areas. 

One Senate candidate from Orange 
County, Congressman William Danne- 
meyer, wants to put the National Guard 
and the military to work "securing" the 
U.S.'s exposed underbelly. In 1989 a 
group called The Coalition for Border 
Security issued a pamphlet, "An Open 
Letter to Congress," and subtitled "Our 
borders are out of control." It reads: 
"Hundreds of thousands of illegal immi- 
grants and billions of dollars of narcotics 
are being smuggled into the United 
States [through] an open border. . .we 
cannot continue to wink at wholesale 
violation of U.S. sovereignty." The 
diatribe goes on to call for the "repair, 
replacement and extension of fencing 
and other appropriate physical struc- 
tures" along the Southwestern border 
plus increased funding for the Immigra- 
tion and Naturalization "Service" (INS, 
aka La Migra). Signatories include Ed- 
ward Abbey, Gerald Arenberg (Nation- 
al Association of Chiefs of Police), 
Richard Dockery (regional director of 
the Southwest NAACP), Edward Va- 
lencia (chairman of the Santa Ynez 
Band of Mission Indians), William 
Winpisinger (president of the Machin- 
ists International) and Albert Shanker 
(president of the American Federation 
of Teachers). 

Organized labor's traditional xeno- 
phobia reflects longstanding anxieties 
about wage levels being undermined by 
migrant workers willing to work for less. 
Migrants are perceived as doing the 
dirty work of the bosses; in the U.S. the 
multitude of languages and cultures has 
been an effective deterrent to unified 
resistance. The INS exploited these 
insecurities in 1986 with its "Operation 
Jobs" program of sweeps against undoc- 
umented Latinos. "Progressives" help 


legitimize such campaigns when they 
too demand "jobs," instead of income, or 
(heaven forbid) a drastic reduction of 
work and a radically different way of 
life. In doing so, they help perpetuate an 
obsolete relationship between work and 
life. Let's be frank: most of what we do 
on our jobs is a complete waste of time 
and nobody should do it! Jobs are an 
artificial, wasteful and dehumanizing 
way of organizing useful human activi- 
ties. Creative freedom and making a 
useful contribution to society are usually 
blocked by the 9-5 grind. 

* * * 

Much immigration to the U.S. today 
is a direct result of its imperial history. 
A migrant workforce is useful to capital 
because the "social" costs of reproducing 
labor— costs of education, training and 
survival — are borne elsewhere. Today it 
is not only California's agricultural sec- 
tor which is dependent on an imported 
workforce (who live in serf-like condi- 
tions) but also the high-tech industries of 
Silicon Valley. Companies like Oracle 
deliberately hire educated Asians and 
Indians because of their vulnerability 
before the immigration court (the ad- 
vantage of "working papers"). No matter 
which way the "brain drains," U.S. 
universities are similarly dependent on 
curious outsiders coming to this coun- 
try; in 1986, U.S. universities awarded 
more engineering Ph.D.s to foreigners 
than Americans. Why should U.S. 
companies concern themselves with the 
local education system, when the "fore- 
ign product" can do the job just as well? 
(Send PW your contributions to an 
upcoming issue on Education!) 

Calls for protectionism and the jingo- 
ism of politicians, CEOs and union 
officials ("Buy American") are all efforts 
to blame plummeting middle-class liv- 
ing standards on "lazy workers." The 
elimination of the safety net and attacks 
on wage levels of the last decades have 
been propelled by an effort to make 
people work harder — to squeeze the 
most profit out of our "human resources." 
The unwritten message of the recession 
is: Be Glad To Have A Job! Your 
Patriotic Duty in the Trade Wars of the 
New World Order is to Work-Work- 

In a society ailmost completely shaped 
by abstract market forces, what do 
people become attached to, and why? 
What does it mean to belong to a place 
or an environment, to be "at home"? Of 
course, home is not just a place, or even 
a shelter, but also a daily, unavoidable 

UNEMPLOYMENT, n. Escape from the shackles of a dull, soul- 
destroying job into the manacles of economic desperation. 

embrace of consumption and invest- 
ment, a relation to a bank or landlord. 
For the lucky ones who can scrape 
together a down payment, home be- 
comes an entry into the rising (or — 
these days — falling) land values game. 
For the unlucky ones erecting cardboard 
shelters in abandoned lots, "home" is a 
temporary respite from the elements, or 
perhaps only a distant and confused 
memory. The same market forces that 
have hurled individuals across the plan- 
et in search of elusive dollars have also 
ripped apart families, homes and com- 
munities throughout the U.S. 

Green politics based on "community," 
"bioregion," or "municipality" empha- 
size the importance of where you live 
over what you do. But is it likely, 
possible, or even desirable for people to 
stop moving around? In 1987 Processed 
World examined the problems of "or- 

ganizing" among transient and atom- 
ized workers. The situation hasn't 
changed much since then. Looking 
forward, transience and atomization are 
more likely to increase than diminish. 
Recognizing this, we embarked on this 
issue seeking contributions on the theme 
of Immigration. The articles and tales 
that appear, however, are less about 
Immigration than about Exile, both in 
the literad sense that results from leaving 
one's original home and culture behind, 
and in the metaphorical sense that many 
of us drawn to radical politics and 
alternative cultures feel. Our theme this 
issue is "Exile on Market Street," refer- 
ring to our location in San Francisco, 
but more significantly, the exile we are 
all subject to in the world market. 

A half dozen Processed World regulars 
check in with their own tales. Frog 
escapes a martial Paris in the post-'68 


Metal Worker 

25 years old 

highly qualrfied 

Union Free 

Religion: Moon • Sober • Punctual 

Inexhaustible • Polite 

Electronics Assembler 

48 years old • Origin: 
Malaysia • Union Free 

Comes with small dowry 

possibly marriageable 

Robust • Servile 

Completely Alcohol Free 

era and tries a few lily pads out before 
leaving a bad green card marriage and 
landing in San Francisco in Pond 
Hopping. In Where & Back Again, 
D.S. Black checks his imperial baggage 
at the border with the U.S.'s neighbor to 
the north . . . but finds that Canada was a 
mere foreshadowing of the many frac- 
tured lines dotting the map, careening 
like rails across many faultzones, from 
the Balkans to the Pacific. Fellow Anti- 
Economy League traveler Med-o takes 
a look at Romanian exile poet Andrei 
Codrescu's The Disappearance of the Out- 
side in our review section, and finds a 
deep resonance in his own life as a 
metaphorical exile, persistent traveler, 
and member of the alien nation. In 
Exile in the Heartland, Dr. Kwazee 
Wabbit, Ph.D. takes a witty look at the 
exile communities inadvertently thrown 
together in the bastion of American 
normalcy. Southern Illinois University 
in Carbondale. Two British members of 
the PW collective contribute stories: 
Iguana Mente describes his accidental 
migration in A Briton In Exile, and 
Louis Michaelson relays a wild story of 
green card marriages from Marinus 
Horn in Marriages of Inconvenience. 
Salvador Ferret grew up in Puerto Rico, 
Argentina and Mexico. In Commie To 
America he tells how he came to the 
U.S. as a young teen. Revolted by the 
xenophobic, racist, plastic culture he 
encountered in Colorado Springs, he 

became a "freak." Mickey D.'s Koun 
Lok is an account of his stint among 
newly arrived Cambodians in San 
Francisco's Tenderloin, finding their 
way through the bizarre rituals and 
artifacts of daily life in the U.S. Alejan- 
dro Murgia, John Ross, Farouk As- 
vat, Clifton Ross and loanna- 
Veronika d\\ offer poetic contributions 
to our theme. 

Of course we also have a number of 
pieces on Processed Worlds traditional 
turf: a local small press. Pressure Drop, 
is publishing this summer Sabotage in the 
American Workplace. Excerpts are pre- 
sented in Sabotage Stories. In Get The 
Message: Mercury Rising Has Risen! 
Chris Carlsson interviews several San 
Francisco bike messengers — always a 
vibrant subculture — who have brought 
forth a new magazine. Mercury Rising. 
The current economic disaster besetting 
daily life in the U.S. gets a look from 
different angles in our tales of toil and 
fictional contributions: in Summer 
Brenner's Same Old, Same Old an 
office worker leaves one job only to find 
the next one virtually indistinguishable, 
ultimately finding a new answer to the 
pressures of her daily life. Faye Man- 
ning describes a harrowing descent into 
marginality, literally selling a part of 
herself (but not soul) to feed her family 
in Blood Money. The Swineherd, a 
tale of toil from Mark Henkes, is our 
token recognition of the election, politi- 

cians, and representative democracy in 
this quadrennial Year of Empty Frenzy. 
Chris Carlsson contrasts a couple of 
books about that elusive category "tech- 
nology" in Ingenuity and Its Enemies 
in the review section. Stella has advice 
for temps in DOWNTIME'S "Paper- 
slutting." Brief looks at the recently 
overturned San Francisco VDT law and 
a bizarre conference of entrepreneurial 
eco-capitalists round out the section. 

Two sets of running graphics 
throughout this issue are excerpted from 
forthcoming productions: The JR 
Swanson grafix with definitions by Chaz 
Bufe are from The American Heretics 
Dictionary (See Sharp Press: 1992), and 
the Hobo Graffiti images are from Bill 
Daniel's half-hour documentary "Who Is 
Bozo Texino?" 

We were happy about the great letters 
we received since the last issue. As an 
unpaid, volunteer project, that's what 
keeps us going, along with interesting 
and relevant submissions. We especially 
need more punchy graphic art, car- 
toons, and fake advertisements. Future 
themes we're talking about are The 
Future, Education, and Sex/Drugs/ 
Pleasure. All kinds of graphics, photos, 
stories, analyses, etc., are welcome — 
please send us copies only! 

Processed World, 41 Sutter St. #1829, 
San Francisco, CA 94104. Tel. 415- 
626-2979, Fax 415-626-2685. E-mail 
pwmag@well . sf . ca. us 


Office Realities 

Dear Processed World, 

Thanks for such an excellent piece of 
journalism on the modern office. I'm fed up 
with it being glamorized in the media in films 
like The Secret of My Success, Working 
Girl, and dire TV shows like LA Law (I 
watch Manhattan Cable— maybe you guys 
should make Processed World a TV pro- 
gramme). You guys show office life as it 
really is, repetitive routines, demoralizing 
and unhealthy atmosphere, uncaring and 
unsympathetic employers, and sexist. I 
don't think anybody has or will write a 
more accurate account of office life than I 
found in your anthology Bad Attitude. 
Your humor is great and your articles are 
never over our (office workers') heads 
which is always a bonus. It's the first 
political manifesto for the service sector 
working class. 

Keep up the good work and don't let the 
bastards grind you down. 


S.J.-Perth, Scotland, UK 

P.S. Office anarchy is alive and well in 

Kudos from an IBM worker 

Dear Bay Cats and Chicks: 

I haven't seen hide nor hair of Processed 
World for over a year now (your "vaca- 
tion" issue was the last one I received). I 
hope it hasn't gone the way of Working 
Papers, Place or Madness Network News. 

What sets PW apart from most "peo- 
ple's" newspapers and magazines is that 
you aren't out to flog any party line, 
though of late you've started to sound like 
mainstream anarchists (how's that for an 
oxymoron?). Still, you've represented all 
colors of collars, blue, pink and white, and 
you've discussed in great detail how "the 
job" affects the rest of one's existence. All 
we've had in the way of worker press for 
many years here in Broome County, NY is 
the Community-Labor Reporter, a throw- 
away newspaper published by a local 
"anti-poverty agency" that seems to be 
loosely modeled after the Daily World and 
month after month, endlessly regurgitates 
the same old whines and whimpers about 
callous corporations and unfair welfare 
agencies; it's very depressing to read, and 
in my opinion does terribly little to empow- 

er its readers to deal with the very real 
wrongs it agonizes over (maybe somebody 
wants it that way). You on the other hand 
have dared stick your politically-incorrect 
noses into the restricted areas of manage- 
ment, engineering and finance to show us 
the bigger picture. 

Like I said some years ago, what I'd 
really like to see from PW is an issue 
devoted entirely to people who've strug- 
gled for years with shit jobs and yahoo 
bosses, extricated themselves through luck 
and/or determination and who now have 
livelihoods which they enjoy and make a 
decent living at (please don't mistake me 
for a typical "success seeker" — I'm inter- 
ested in survival stories; most self-help 
books make me retch). [Ed. note: Check 
out our 10th anniversary double issue, 
»26/27, on "The Good Job. "] First of all 
though, I'd like to see PW back in my 

Hasta la vista, 
P.G.-JohnsonCity, NY 

1992-The Year of ?? 

Dear PW- 

I'm proud to say that I have every single 
issue of PW and always look forward to the 
next one. FOOD FOR THOUGHT. . . 

I haven't written to you folks in a long 
while. This year has not been kind to me. I 
lost my job in January due to the Reces- 
sion. Lost the love of my life in February, 
followed closely by the only other man in 
my life whom I love and trust (both now live 
on Vancouver Island in beautiful British 
California). After a brief (too brief) spell of 
feeling good about myself, I was hit by the 
worst trauma of my life— the death of one 
of my devoted cats. This emotional up- 


AMERICANISM, n. 1) The desire to purge America of all those 
qualities which make it a more or less tolerable place in which to live; 
2) The ability to simultaneously kiss ass, follow your boss's orders, 
swallow a pay cut, piss in a bottle, cower in fear of job loss, and 
brag about your freedom. 

9 3 

S 16 


Next time you're stuck at a railroad 

crossing, ctiecl( out ttie sides of 

ttie boxcars. 


Good Jobs and Other Oxymorons 

Dear PW: 

Although cutting and pasting do not 
normally fit into my "job description," I felt 
inspired after reading the double issue 
#26/27, "The Good Job." So, I spent most 
of my morning cutting and pasting, making 
copies for surreptitious company distribu- 
tion. Doing it on company time made it all 
the more sweet. Now that I am back from a 
long relaxing lunch, I can begin to type my 
thoughts out. 

In my mind the term "the good job" is an 
oxymoron. In capitalist economies there 
can never be anything except selling la- 
bor/time for money, always for the exist- 
ing order, and for the god Commerce. 
Even if one has the "luxury" of being 
self-employed, that person always submits 
to the economic regime. The bottom line is 
ALWAYS money. 

heaval was like losing my best friend, lover, 
and favorite child in one fell swoop. I'm still 
not over it! 

As the year of 1991 wanes, I find myself 
with very little to look forward to in 1992. 
The thought occurs to me— how much 
worse can things get? And the answer? 
DON'T ASK! I am sure that things can get 
a lot worse than they are now, and not just 
for me but for everyone. Years of living 
beyond our means will finally catch up with 
us, on a global scale. I anticipate the worst, 
which is summed up in my present philos- 
ophy of life: 



(Think about it. . .) 
R.B.— Toronto, Canada 

Who Profits? 

Dear Processed Individuals, 

My life has made more sense since I 
found Processed World. I use a computer 
as a tool to create art work and teach 
computer graphics to college students to 
pay the bills. Your analysis of the effects of 
computers on the workplace is a welcome 
relief from the attitudes of students and 
colleagues alike who too often view the 
computer as a panacea to the world's and 
their own problems. 

When things still don't work out perfect- 
ly after learning the hardware/software the 
solution is always "More hardware or 

While the technological revolution is 
exciting and in many ways inevitable, only 
people with the courage to ask "Who 
profits and who gets manipulated by the 
new technology?" can expect to meaning- 
fully shape the debate. 

Keep up the good work! 

P.B. -Cleveland, OH 

Who's writing these pictures? Tramps? 
Railroad workers? 

hours. . .enough for you to resemble 
Munch's "Woman on the Bridge." I love 
wearing my thrift shop rags to the horror of 
my dressed for success co-worker, or 
openly talk about gay phone sex, or write 
pornography to/with my other co-worker. 
What I do have to endure is working the 
sleazy world of retail and am constantly 
exposed to its soul-less mechanizations. 
The game is easy: sell low quality mer- 
chandise for inflated prices to unsuspect- 
ing "consumers" who really believe that 
this or that product will somehow fill a 
need that does not exist in reality, but is 
fabricated by the mass medium, advertis- 
ing. Just think what would happen if 
people stopped buying the bullshit! It 
would make the (inevitable) current reces- 
sion look like a Gump's display. Keep up 
the good work!! 
Widget -S.F. 

And About Art. . . 


Just got issue 24. What a dilemma. 
Moving into art . . . definitely a sensible 
proposition. Moving into green-party-ism 
means ideology. . .that means starting to 
read on page 1, and taking it a page at a 
time. Art means starting anywhere and 
flitting about. We can only take so much of 
boring jobs, and perhaps only read so 
much of ranting about boring jobs. There's 
a bit of an upturn over here, some people 
writing about zero-work and possibilities 
(an anti-work stance is more often than not 
an anti-work POSE)— a care of putting 
theory into practice— and not practice into 
theory. Also there are a few people looking 
into "information age" and the current 
shifts toward fascination with information 
and meta-data. Adopting a stiff "anti- 
technology" stance is a problem as it 

Much of our early life is spent preparing 
for the working world: learning how to 
consume from parents and television. Ad- 
justing to the tedium of school work isn't 
any different than adjusting to the tedium 
of work-work: it's just a different cell. We 
even learn to accept that we can't change 
the existing order. In other words, just grin 
and bear it and hope that you have enough 
Valiums to last until the next round of 
pleasant unemployment. 

The undeniable horrors of modern work 
make Processed World a Godsend. Like 
any decent commodity critic, I extol! your 
virtues with aplomb: I laughed, I cried, I 

I am rather lucky, I think. I don't have to 
endure those frightening hierarchies, the 
confining straightjackets most people wear 
to work, or toil as much as I have had to in 
the past. Try legal researching for a living, 
or keying 12,000 numbers an hour for eight 

Some of the train pictures you'll see a 

bunch of times If you keep looking, 

some of ttiem you may only see once. 

■. *- ml lyt^^l*^ 


assumes some kind of precise division 
"technology/not technology," and we 
need critical discussion around "technolo- 
gy" in its various formats (communica- 
tions, information, silicon chips...). [Ed. 
note: See the review "Ingenuity and Its 
Enemies" in the review section of this issue 
for more on this very topic] But plenty of 
artworks is a good thing. Cut down on 
rantings, it's depressing, drift a bit with 
your stories, open up channels of possibili- 
ties of what could be, why it isn't, and how 
to get there. 

Till then, 

Barney Dog -Sheffield, U.K. 

A Warning from Central Europe 

Dear Processed World! 

I have read articles which you send me 
and which are telling more about your 
work. I think that it, what you are doing, is 
very interesting and important because in 
this time on the world are few people 
which don't want and don't find only 
money for every things. 

Many articles are written about AIDS, 
terrorism. Northern Ireland, massacres in 
South Africa and war in Kuwait. This all is 
horrible. War in Kuwait is ended. But 
should she have ended if Kuwait hadn't 
money and oil? No! Why? 

From May 1991 fight in Europe two 
nations: Serbia and Croatia. Serbia attack 
Croatians village and towns. They destroy 
there. They are killing not only soldiers but 
many civilians, women and children. This 

is no war, this is massacres, exterminates 
Croatian fight for freedom but they are 
weaker than Serbia, they need help. But 
what is world doing? Nothing. Because 
they haven't money, gold. Money are 
freedom, money are happiness, money are 
the all. But I and certainly many other 
people think that this isn't truth. And one 
warning: In 1914, World War I started in 
Serbia. Thanks and keep up your good 

Your sincerely, 

L.V. — Prievidza, Czechoslovakia 

News from South Africa 

Dear Processed World, 

Are you guys still hanging in there? The 
last issue I laid eyes on was No. 23 way 
back in 1988. I have about seven or eight 
copies of different issues, and cherish 
them like gold! I decided to write and hear 
whether you still exist. I hope I am not 

I don't know whether you have had 
someone come here and do a report on SA 
recently, but I'd like to give you a bird's eye 
view of local conditions anyway. 

Since my last letter was published in 
#21, well, a couple of things have changed 
here locally, haven't they? Or have they? 
The old dictum: "The more things change, 
the more they stay the same" seems to be 
particularly true in the case of South 
Africa. Yes, imprisoned political leaders 

have been released, the paranoia of the 
P.W. Botha era has subsided, and yes, 
thank God, repressive legislation has been 

The free flow of information has been 
restored to a level unknown to my genera- 
tion (I'm thirty years old) — one can hardly 
believe that three years ago one could go 
to prison for publishing pictures of Mande- 
la and his mates! Yes, everyone can live 
where they want, work where they want, and 
equal opportunity, in theory, is afforded to 

But all those privileges and rights are 
part of the scenery in any "democratic," 
free society. There is no need to applaud 
them, not in South Africa in any case. 

The bottom line is the same as every- 
where on the planet: A person with a roof, 
a reasonable dinner and kids in school 
makes a poor revolutionary. Some of you 
might think that this sounds like an over- 
simplification, but that is reality here. (I 
think many locals don't even realize it.) It 
really is a knife-edge between social stabil- 
ity and social degeneration a la Yugoslavia. 

What really terrifies me is the potential 
for a typical African pseudo-dictatorship to 
come to power, complete with racing 
Presidential motorcade and trigger-happy 
comrades. And don't give me that bullshit 
about local cultural peculiarities. 

Please send me a copy of anything 
you've published on South Africa since 
#23. I am kind of a media nut, and am 
always on the lookout for discussions 
regarding my beloved fatherland in the 


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foreign press, especially if that press is one 
worth pricking your ears for! 

Take care, 

C.D.-Hillbrow, South Africa 

Dragging the Guardian into the 21st C. 

Dear Folks, 

Well, barring a change of heart, it looks 
like your prediction of how long I'd last at 
the Guardian (3-4 months seemed to be the 
consensus) will be right on target. From my 
first staff meeting where we fired someone 
for "gross misconduct," to the discussion 
over whether new members can vote 
(decision: they can't, not for 4 months, 
and even then only if the Central Commit- 
tee—excuse me. Coordinating Commit- 
tee—approves them for Staff Member- 
ship), to the decision to hire a managing 
editor at nearly twice the salary regular 
staff make (because, as one person put it, 
it's only fair to pay "what the market will 
bear"— though there was also much class- 
baiting going on, whereby it was ex- 
plained that some people weren't privi- 
leged enough to afford to live on a regular 
Guardian salary— this from someone who 
wants us to hire an ultra-professional white 
woman before we've even conducted an 
affirmative action search), to the lecture I 
got today to the effect that one shouldn't 
be rude to Black people because they have 
a history of oppression and might interpret 
it as racist, it has become ever clearer to 
me that these are a bunch of petty- 
management wannabes whose idea of 
progressive politics is making a laundry list 
of Oppressed Groups to pay lip service to, 
while their own political behavior goes 

I find I'm seeing more and more things in 
terms of the commodification of politics 
—the very people (activists) who protest 
against the system increasingly see politics 
as something you either produce or con- 
sume. So you have on the one hand career 
activists, who see politics essentially as a 
job that doesn't necessarily filter into their 
"real lives" (whether it really is their job or 
it's just what takes most of their time and 
energy), and on the other all the conscien- 

tious consumers and Shopping-for-a-Better- 
World-heads, who treat politics as just an 
enlightened version of calorie-counting. 
Even demonstrations seem more like con- 
sumer events than genuine political acts. In 
organizations like the Guardian, politics isn't 
something you do or enact or live, but 
something you possess; and "good politics" 
can be used to increase your status in the 
hierarchy, and to get your way in power 
struggles. It's like a little protocapitalist 
economy, with politics playing the role of 

But I could gripe about the Guardian 
forever. Good luck with the magazine. 
Stay in touch. 

Take care, 

N.M.-NewYork, NY 

Thanks for the Attitude 

Dear Processed Wor/d, 

For the last eight years I have . been 
reading Processed World. I am of the 
pre- World War II generation but belonged 
to a small group of people who would take 
to the Processed World idea. 

I am grateful for The Good Job in issue 
#26/27. I agree, we shouldn't be fooled by 
our "good job." A while ago, some of the 
women's essays in Processed World's Bad 
Attitude made a difference. For days I was 
wounded by my work adversary and 
reached for Bad Attitude. These essays 
made something in my subconscious shift 
and relax. I felt a desirable warming of my 
brain cells. I got a perspective on my 
problem and felt better. 

Thank you for the control you have on 
your subject matter. 


J.K. — San Francisco, California 

News From Jacksonville 

Dear P. W. Creators and Promulgators, 

As you may already know, Jacksonville, 

although a port city, is mainly a town of 

huge insurance companies, regional bank 

headquarters. Navy Bases (three!) and 

heavy industry, including Union Carbide, 
Kerr-McGee, and others of that ilk. 

My vocation is writing fiction, poetry and 
playing guitar. Like all such misfits, I've 
had to take "straight" jobs from time to 
time so I could keep myself housed and 
fed. I've worked temps, general clerical, 
assembly/ production lines, loading docks, 
UPS (2/4 years there), washed dishes, 
flipped burgers. . .well, the list goes on, 
and so do the usual horror stories. 

Reading Processed World helped me 
keep in mind that there are others out there 
with Certified Bad Attitudes, and that my 
small circle of cohorts and I aren't as alone 
as we sometimes seem. 

Congratulations on producing a fine 
'zine that will be a useful tool in my 
personal and continuing role as a 

Process Resistor, 

C.R.— Jacksonville, FL 

A Helluva Decade 

Dear PW. 

It has been one hell of a decade and a half 
working for "the man," people like Martin 
in Generation X and Rajiv in Biohell. 
(Rajiv's company was not doing well 
financially? Gee, I wonder why?) 

I thought it was just me whose integrity 
was being sucked dry by the smarminess 
of Time magazine's cute characterizations 
of "twenty-somethings" ("Freshly minted 
grown-ups." Jesus Christ!) Now I realize 
that there are others who feel the same 
way I do. 

Who is Tom Tomorrow? He (or she) is 
fantastic. I really can't tell you how funny I 
find his (her) material. On page 50 of 
PW28, the last frame of "How the News 
Works" is utterly true and therefore utterly 
terrifying and therefore utterly hilarious. 
The picture behind the G. Gordon Liddy- 
looking character is of an advertisement. 
Just look at that hamburger and fries 
SMILING. FUN MEAL. Look at the hat on 
top of the hamburger. IT IS SO TRUE. 


E.L. — Beliingham, WA 


Good Taste is the Chief 
Enemy of Creativity 


•Go Go Go This is It This is It 
• Improvisation is Better Than Planning 
•Notice What You're Noticing 
•Participate in the Creation of Ruins 
•Operate Outside The Paradigm 

tmton AxWAar>l(«^rts 


The Avant Garde is Obsolete 


graphic: The Stranger 
Workers of the World Support PW 

Processed World sent copies of PW 28 
to the membership of the Industrial Work- 
ers of the World, along with a polemical 
cover letter from Chris Carlsson, arguing 
for a new approach to radical workplace 
organizing. Due to the Wobblies being a 
few doors away from PW in our San 
Francisco office, an ongoing dialogue has 
developed about work, workers, self- 
identity, and radical social change. We 
hope to continue this discussion in future 
issues and encourage readers to partici- 

Use/Need On The Agenda 

Hey PW, 

I used to have a sub to PW. Then, I 
agitated for a sub at my workstation, a 
library. Since the curator there eventually 
did put in an order, I had been perusing 
your excellent 'zine, more or less, free of 
charge on the job. 

Your project of putting the question of 
what constitutes use and need on the 
agenda of whatever social revolution 
eventually explodes the capitalist political 
economy is, I think, very worthwhile. The 
fact that very advanced commodity pro- 
duction, such as we now find ourselves 
immersed in, reveals an incredible possibili- 
ty for eliminating material suffering, while 
at the same time shrouding that potential 
in millions of reified images, gives your 
project extra added weight on the scale of 
meaning. But more than that, the sense of 
joy, love and laughter that you bring to the 
readers of PW makes it worth sub- 
scribing to, if only to be a part of that 
process myself. 

Yours for the works, 

M.B. -Palo Alto, CA 

Get Real, You Health Nazis! 

Dear Processed World Collective: 

As a smoker, I really didn't enjoy your 

arrogant, preppy anti-smoking articles. 

If you health-nazis would get some real 
issues instead of attacking the working 
class (who are most of the smokers), you 
might find organizing the workers as a 
class a lot more simpler, (sic) 

Where I live, the death rate from cancer 
has doubled in the area surrounding Rocket- 
dyne. None of the cancer deaths were re- 
lated to smoking. What does our local gov- 
ernment do? Outlaw smoking in govern- 
ment buildings. 

My mother, who was very conservative 
(voted for Nixon) got radicalized through 
smokers' rights groups. At 72, she is active 
in the state of Nevada, where she took early 
retirement rather than go outside to smoke. 
Her awareness has grown to all areas of 
repression of workers throughout the world. 

All this anti-smoking bullshit is just 
another way for the bosses to divide workers 
and get their focus off the real issues, and 
you have become pawns in their game. 

I sure don't want to support anyone who 
wants to take away my rights. Many work- 
ers are battling for their right to smoke on 
the job. Do you support them or not? 

D. — Colorado 

PWers putting up a smokescreen! 

graphic PW Collective 

We Are Workers First 

Fellow Workers, 

First of all I was pleased to receive the 
sample copy of PW you sent, although a 
few weeks later I received another copy 
along with a notice to renew my subscrip- 
tion. Thanks. I do like Processed World 
and have shown it to coworkers. They 
dig the graphics. 

Anyway, I'm writing to briefly comment 
on some of the points you raised in your 
cover letter in order to clarify my views. 

You say that, "The mass, interchangeable 
nature of office work, and the enormous 
transiency among white collar workers 
indicates, . . . , that we have a different 
relationship to Work than the one which 
gave rise to the theory of Industrial Union- 
ism." I think that you are mistaken. It was 
precisely the "mass, interchangeable na- 
ture" of labor that accompanied the ag- 
gregation of large numbers of workers in 
mass production industries that gave rise 
to the theory of Industrial Unionism in the 
first place. Prior to this development, 
production was carried on by relatively 
small groups of skilled craftsmen in small 
shops. Craft, or trade, unionism was the 
form of organization worked out by these 
skilled workers to meet the needs within 
the prevailing organization of labor. Simi- 
larly, industrial unionism developed to 
meet the needs of the mass worker created 
by the new organization of labor. Indeed, 
the IWW had its greatest successes among 
the migratory agricultural, timber, con- 
struction and mining workers of the West, 
whose way of life and work were much 
more transient than that of the "white 
collar" worker of today. This was because 
the concept of revolutionary class union- 
ism made no hard and fast distinction 
among industries, seeing each particular 
industry as an integral part of an overall 
industry; i.e., the production and distribu- 
tion of goods and services to meet the 
needs and wants of human beings. So, it 
didn't matter if you were harvesting wheat 
in August, cutting timber in September, or 
working on a dam in October, you were 
still part of the working class. The same 
goes for the white collar worker who might 
change jobs every six months. 

The relationship of white collar workers, 
including "information handlers," to the 
production process is not all that different 
from that of blue collar workers. I'm a 
programmer. I write and maintain soft- 
ware. The software I write and maintain is 
decided on by my employer. I do not own 
the means of production (i.e., the terminal 
I use or the CPU that it's attached to), nor 
the product (i.e., the program) of my toil. 
How is this different from the situation of, 
let's say, a millwright in a factory? None 
that I can see. 

You may be right, self-identity may very 
well be found outside the workplace, and 
the worker identity, at least among the 
people you hang with, but to my mind this 
is not a good thing. I identify myself as a 
worker because it is the one thing that 
connects me, a moderately well-paid skilled 
worker, with the low paid key-puncher 
in order processing, the mail clerk, the guy 
who picks up my garbage, the woman who 
sews the soles on my sneakers AND that 
separates me from my, and their, bosses. If 
I were to identify myself as an artist, 
philosopher, or whatever, these other 
workers would be merely other "people" 
whose conditions of life and work would be 



of no interest to me except, perhaps, as 
objects of pity if their conditions were 
particularly harsh or as objects of envy if 
their conditions were appreciably better 
than my own. There would be no basis for 
solidarity. This would lead me to remain 
indifferent, or even hostile, to a particular 
group of workers who were engaged in a 
struggle with the employers. As a worker I 
see that, though our work and levels of 
compensation may be different, we are in 
the same position in relation to the work 
we do — powerless and expropriated — and 
that the way to put an end to this common 
wage-slavery is to organize ourselves in 
opposition to those who hold the power 
and rob us of the wealth we create. 

PW emphasizes the voices of contem- 
porary workers as writers, artists, poets, 
historians, philosophers, etc., and that's a 
good thing. The Industrial Worker, on the 
other hand, emphasized the voices of 
contemporary workers as workers, or it 
should to my mind. This is important so 

Evolution is a Virus 

•Everything Changes 
•Eternal Yearning for 

Eternal Learning is 

what Keeps Me From 

•Fortune Favors the 


Conventional Wisdom 
Is a Lie 

#Destroy All Genres 
^Demolish Serious Culture 


^ I NOW 

graphic: The Stranger 

that we can resist being sucked into the 
belief that we workers and our employers 
are all part of one human race with 
identical interests and that if we'll just try 
to cooperate, we'll all be better off. 

The contemporary collapse of business 
unionism (both trade and industrial) is due, 
I think, primarily to the restructuring of the 
capitalist economies and the increased 
stratification of the working class that has 
been produced. In this situation, I think 
that the IWW's concept of revolutionary 
class unionism is most relevant. To realize 
this concept it will be necessary to create 
communities of resistance both within and 
without the workplace that aim at the 
abolition not of "Work," but of wage 
labor. It seems to me that before we can 
get rid of all the useless work we do, we 
have to get possession of the decision- 
making power to determine, collectively, 
what is and what is not useful and 
necessary work. This will take organization 
and struggle, an organization and struggle 
that will not happen if those who want to 
see the abolition of this society take the 
path of escape into marginal, self-managed 
businesses. As the saying goes, "If not us, 
who? If not now, when?" 

Well, I think I've gone on long enough. I 
hope all this clarifies my views, for what 
they are worth. I'll sign off now and wish 
you well. 

In solidarity, 

M.H. -Chicago, IL 


Thanks a lot for your thoughtful re- 
sponse. I had begun to despair of intelli- 
gent dialogue resulting from sending out 
my letter. I expected to receive a number 
of highly critical letters, but didn't. 

On this question of "mass interchangea- 
bility" and its relation to self -identity and 
work, I agree with your invocation of the 
historical experience of Wobbly organizing 
among far poorer, far more marginal work- 
ers in a broad range of occupations some 
80 years ago. I was trying to find some 
discussion of how transience affected or- 
ganizing in the IWW anthology or some 
other old literature but failed to find 
anything. It seems that the working class 
identity was so profound and clear at that 
time that it wasn't necessary to worry 
about highly transient workers failing to 
see their common predicament as workers. 
And of course, as I'm sure you know, the 
immigrant communities that largely sus- 
tained Wobbly organizing, were tightly knit 
and often had dynamic periodicals and 
frequent cultural gatherings which some- 
times became integral to strikes and other 
Wobbly campaigns. So I would argue that 
while early twentieth century industry in- 
troduced the mass worker role, the late 
twentieth century is suffering the psycho- 
logical harvest of decades of mass work 
and Just as important, mass consumption. 
We no longer think of ourselves as work- 
ers. You say you are a programmer and do 
still see yourself in your proletarian status. I 
am a self-employed typesetter and graphic 
artist and also identify with workers and a 
working class movement. But I am pain- 
fully aware of how empty that sounds to 
others not already sharing such a perspec- 
tive; in fact it sounds as distant and alien as 
the exhortation of Christians to get saved! 

So that's what we're trying to do in PW, 
find a new language and new connections 
not dependent on (rightly or wrongly) 
discredited categories and language. I 
hope it's still clear that we are in favor of 


workers' self-organization and the abolition 
of wage- labor! You argue that the basis of 
solidarity is a shared self- id entity as 
"worker. " I really doubt it. Solidarity is 
born out of practical necessities more than 
any psychological self-conceptions. But if 
the practical links between different kinds 
of work remain opaque, and everyone is 
just "people, " practical struggles remain 
remote. So how to proceed? Why should 
we spend our energies encouraging people 
to define themselves as their job, one of 
the worst pillars of the work ethic? I think 
almost all workers have something better 
to do than their jobs, and that's what a 
radical workers' movement should be em- 
phasizing. Might there be some way to tap 
the reservoirs of creativity and community, 
to excite people based on their desires for a 
more fully human life (which is why so 
many think of themselves as musicians, 
historians, dancers, photographers, etc.)? 
Wobblies should advocate using the social 
power on the job to achieve this more 
complete life. I think this approach will 
resonate with people as they are living 
now, exploiting the widespread stifling of 
creative capacities by the capitalist system. 

I think you make a real mistake when 
you identify my choice to make a living in 
an environment of my own creation (at 
least compared to a bank!), where I have 
much more control over the hours worked, 
the way the work is done, and even 
sometimes what kind of work I do, as an 
"escape. " Sure, it is an escape from the 
worst kind of totalitarian nightmare, the 
sort which prevails in large corporations. 
But it is no escape from the basic logic of 
our lives, the incessant buying and selling. 
Finally, the escape of self-employment is 
also the acceptance of a much less medi- 
ated relationship with the marketplace, 
hardly an embrace of freedom. 

I want to engage in resistance that's fun! 
I don't know if you think that's weak of 
me, or frivolous, or whatever, but I think 
pleasure is our best weapon, and we have 
to fight for it all the time, in every arena, 
especially political / social / industrial oppo- 

I think the widespread rejection of the 
worker identity is extremely healthy, rais- 
ing the interesting question of how do we 
organize and use our collective social 
power on a different basis with perhaps 
more far-reaching goals than merely, as 
the IWW Preamble has it, "organizling] the 
army of production. . . to carry on produc- 
tion when capitalism shall have been 
overthrown. " A free future seems to me to 
preclude concepts such as an "army of 
production, " irrespective of its goals. The 
demise of the worker identity and its 
replacement by a new individualism is at 
worst ambiguous. I see no hope in trying to 
convince people who have tried very hard 
to find a creative role in life (usually 
without any hope of making a living that 
way, e.g. photographers, writers, etc.) to 

reconceptualize their lives on the basis of a 
meaningless job which they will only be at 
for a couple of years at most. When they 
are transient and move to a new place, it's 
usually an attempt to find work at their 
creative goals, not to resume whatever 
alienated office job they are leaving be- 
hind. But their engagement with the 
possibilities of their lives is more profound 
than the 40-hour-a-week worker at any 
kind of job. And we need people with the 
passion that gets them more involved with 
their lives and makes them unwilling to 
accept the tawdry choices left us by late 
capitalism. Individualism is a good begin- 
ning, and provides an opportunity for us to 
promote the kind of social responsibility 
and mutual aid that, combined with self- 
motivated, responsible individuals, can ac- 
tually bring forth a different way of life. 

Since you identify as a worker, and do 
computer programming, how do you relate to 
the purpose of your work now? I assume 
it's largely useless, but I'd be curious to 
know how you see it. And what is the role 
of millions of bank, insurance, and real 

estate workers in a liberated division of 
labor? What is useful information? How 
should we go about organizing that? How 
will bank workers who (hypothetically) 
organize themselves and expropriate Bank 
of America, say, feel about the abolition of 
said institution and the elimination of all 
that information? Mightn't they feel they 
should fight to save their jobs? Don't we 
have to find a way out of that loop? By 
continuing to insist on embracing work and 
workers, as such, we reinforce people's 
dependence on this abstraction known as 
The Economy, when really it's high time to 
make a break with this totally obsolete 
organization of society. 

I know it's all pretty embryonic and far 
from figured out. More dialogues are really 
important right now. 

Thanks again for your intelligent re- 
sponse. It came as a great relief to me, and 
helps restore some of my (admittedly 
limited) faith in the IWW. I look forward to 
further exchanges. 

Best wishes, 

Chris Carlsson 

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gate doesn't work, so Chuahan is yelling up to an 
open window on the third floor: "Phouthouloum! 
Bounthoum! Beck!" A small head appears and darts 
back in. Within seconds the gate is pushed open by 
a crowd of excited children and we leave the 
sun-drenched sidewalk for the murky hallway. 
Hands tug our clothes as we're led into the interior. 

Kids are climbing my legs, jumping on my back, 
swinging from my arms. The stink of urine-fetid 
clothing is overwhelming. Chuahan chastises them 
in Lao while they compete for our attention. One 
performs kung fu motions with his feet; another 
jumps an entire length of staircase, easily five times 
his height. The only hostility comes from a 
runny-nose kid who persistently takes aim at my 
crotch with his tiny fist. 

Trying to balance the squirming, giggling arm- 
load of kids while twisting my waist to avoid the 
punches, I follow Chuahan up the stairwell, past 
the used condoms, burnt crack pipes and piles of 
uncollected garbage. Pubescent homeboys in hood- 
ed San Francisco Giants jackets scowl as we pass. 

When we get to the fourth floor, I notice that 
none of the apartment doors are closed to the 
hallway and the children pass freely from one 
apartment to another. With the fragrance of herbs, 
spices and cow brains in the air, it seems as if a 
remote village has suddenly been transplanted to a 
sleazy skidrow hotel. 

Chuahan shows me into a small studio and — 
after quick, unspoken introductions with a group of 
women sitting cross-legged around bowls of food 
— I try to settle inconspicuously in the corner on a 
six-inch-high kneeling stool. The room is sparsely 

furnished. One entire wall is taken up by a huge 
TV-CD-stereo- VCR console showing some kind of 
Khmer Benny Hill video; opposite it, a Theravada 
Buddhist shrine with burning candles; below it, a 
bed protruding legs and arms that contains sleeping 
men and babies. 

A new group of kids from inside the room 
approaches and quietly stands eye-level around me, 
sizing me up. The oldest woman's eyes are 
questioning even as she offers me soup. Her name 
is Sepanerath and she wears a beautifully colored 
dress and tinkling jewelry. The other women are 
heavily made-up teenagers with luxurious hairdos. 

Looking at Souvanna, Sepanerath points at me 
with one fmger and with another simulates — 
fellatio? The teenagers giggle. It takes me a 
moment to realize that she's asking Chuahan if I'm 
gay, i.e. a pedophile, and am I after her kids? As if 
in answer, I open my bookbag and give the kids the 
notebooks and packages of paper that I stole from 
work. They accept them blankly. Sepanerath says 
to the children in Khmer for them to say "thank 
you" in English. 

Then I produce a handful of magic markers and 
colored pens (more loot). I draw a cartoon face. 
"Draw Donatello," requests Nancy, an eight-year- 
old girl with just- shampooed hair. Before I under- 
stand that she isn't talking about the 16th century 
Italian painter, her younger brother shows me a 
picture of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. To their 
delight, I duplicate it; then I draw Bart Simpson. 
More cheers. My popularity is assured, and we 
spend the rest of the afternoon drawing pictures. 

On the way home I feel happy in a way I've never 
felt before. 


With the 
fragrance of herbs, spices and 
cow brains in the air, it seems as if a remote 
village has suddenly been transplanted to a 

sleazy skidrow hotel. 


Chuahan was born in eastern Thai- 
land when Ubon could still be called a 
village, but his earliest memories are of 
the airfield and the earth- rumbling rou- 
tine of U.S. planes en route to bombing 
sorties over nearby Laos. Ubon was 
forever transformed by the U.S. mili- 
tary personnel and AID officials, the 
inevitable economies of drugs and pros- 
titution, and the arrival of tens of thou- 
sands of refugees from across the border. 
Traditionalists took it hard. Chuahan 
renounced his parent's religious funda- 
mentalism and wholesale fabric business, 
shaved his head and made his way to an 
American university to study poetry. 

When we met in San Francisco's 
financial district, we were both bearers 
of worthless degrees stuck in dead-end 
jobs. Desperate to escape our condition 
as servants to giant bureaucracies, we 
talked endlessly about ways of contrib- 
uting meaningfully to the world while 
having fun. Chuahan seemed to have 
hit on the perfect combination when he 
landed a job at the Head Start program, 
tutoring Lao and Cambodian pre- 
schoolers in the Tenderloin. A combat 
zone of illicit pleasures populated by 
transvestites, strippers, hookers, ad- 
dicts, drifters, thieves, lost tourists and 
newly arrived Southeast-Asian refugees, 
the Tenderloin is about as far from the 
spirit of the financial district as you can 
get — only a couple of blocks away, it 
exists in its shadow. 

Witty, charming and compassionate, 
Chuahan was an immediate hit with the 
families in his program. An Indian 
subcontinental, his reputation is en- 
hanced by a readiness to speak up on 
behalf of Laotians and Cambodians who 
resent the Vietnamese domination of 
the meager social services available to 
southeast Asians (the majority of the 
Vietnamese got here a decade earlier 
and are better established). Chuahan's 
ascent within the ranks of Tenderloin 
non-profits is rapid, and pays better 
than temping. 

"It's not such a bad thing I do, helping 
poor women who can't speak English 
collect their welfare payments." Com- 
pared to what I do for a living, this 
sounds reasonable. 

Recently adrift from an east coast 
suburb, my entire social horizons be- 
come enmeshed in the lives of people 
who less than five years ago were living 
in rural areas outside of Vientiane and 
Phnom Penh. Until now I have only 
thought of them in terms of emotional 
associations with concepts like "civil 

war," "imperialism" and "revolution" 
("samsaravattam" is the closest word in 
Khmer to "revolution," though its 
meaning is closer to "transmigration"). 

For many Asian immigrants, children 
(who learn languages much more 
quickly) are indispensable to their par- 
ent's survival in the new country; they're 
interlocutors with the outside world: 
courts, landlords, immigration officials, 
etc. They become my translators as 

Chuahan and I take the kids to places 
they've never been: the playground at 
Golden Gate Park, the Santa Cruz 
Boardwalk, Ocean Beach. On Hallow- 
een we take a taxi cab full of 3-4 year 
olds to a rich neighborhood. The idea of 
ringing the doorbell of an oak-doored 
mansion and receiving free candy is a 
happy novelty, but not nearly as excit- 
ing as the expanses of lawns: being able 
to run and fall on soft grass comes as a 

In fact, not a union, but o bunch of thugs and 
"stomp tramps." Gangs like the H.U.A., the Goon 
Squad, and the FTR A traverse the main lines from 
one foodsfomp scam to the next, lootln' and klllin' 
along the way, sometimes for only a bottle of 
cheap wine. 

The kids seem oblivious to most 
urban hazards. When playing tag, they 
move with frightening speed in and out 
of traffic. Scrawny Phouthouloum 
(a.k.a. "Rambo") possesses an acrobatic 
grace that is truly incredible: he can 
mount a newspaper vending rack, 
shimmy up a sign post, swing from his 
legs, and always land on his feet. In his 
hands, anything can be transformed 
into a toy weapon; baseball cards be- 
come stars, rolled up newspapers be- 
come numchucks. 

"Gangsters" (older kids and thieves 
who prey on the more vulnerable) with 
whom the kids indifferently share the 

sidew2ilks during the day are ominous 
figures at night; several kids' families are 
routinely terrorized by break-ins. The 
cops are even greater objects of mis- 
trust, a relation which fails to change 
despite innumerable "community rela- 
tions" meetings. 

Slang and style tastes are distinctively 
African- American. It takes me a while to 
realize that when these six-year-olds 
address one another as "nigga," it's 
learned from neighborhood blacks and 
as neutral a part of their vocabulary as 
anything in Lao or Khmer. 

The kids show me a side of their 
neighborhood that was previously invis- 
ible: down a labyrinth of seedy alleys a 
rabbit sits in its cage, wedged between a 
dumpster and a pile of trash. In a 
remote attic corner some other kids 
show me a broken pigeon's egg, long 
abandoned in its nest. Anticipating its 
eventual birth, they've organized an 
extended family for it. 

"Koun lok," announces Chanpheng, 
after a magpie-like bird known in Cam- 
bodia for its cry at sunset. In Khmer, it 
literally means "child of the world." 
According to legend, some young kids 
who were abandoned in the forest to be 
eaten by tigers transformed into these 
birds, achieving safety by being at home 
in the wilderness. Forever after, the cry 
"koun lok" serves as a reminder of the 
borders between the wild and the 
tamed, nature and human. Birthday 
parties for the children are community 
celebrations; every kid seems to have 
about twenty birthdays a year. 

Sometimes more formal gatherings 
(particularly for the young and unat- 
tached) are arranged by Lao ethnic 
associations; gloomy warehouses like 
the Hungarian Hall (next to Sex Toys & 
Movies) are rented for an evening. 
These involve crystal-ball disco decor 
with a Lao rock band intermixing 
standard rock covers with more tradi- 
tional numbers. They're fairly somber 
affairs, except for the appearance of 
three Lao transvestites, who are always 
a hit. 

At one party I hear Mony reminis- 
cing about the miserable, squalid condi- 
tions for the Cambodians in the U.N. 
refugee camps and the interminable 
waiting for visas in the Philippines. I ask 
Mony for more information about 
where he's from in Cambodia, how he 
ended up in the camps, what he thinks 
about what's going on there. Mony 
speaks with contempt of the arrogant 
Thais and the Filipinos, but turns the 
conversation to brighter subjects. 


i heard the guy who draws this picture stole that 
moniker from the original Coaltrain and now the 
oldtimers gonna Idll him If he catches him. 

"Once we were just poor Cambodi- 
ans. Treated like shit! Now, when we go 
back to Cambodia, we get respect," he 
explains, cocking his biceps into a proud 
muscle. "Because we are Americans." 

Nods of agreement among the men in 
the room. 

I think: are you kidding? Your kids 
play in garbage, you work like a dog so 
you can live in the slums! Instead I say, 
"Look at what the U.S. did to Cambo- 
dia, though. They bombed it for years 
— they must have killed a quarter of a 
million people." 

Silence. Then Mony says, "I heard 
about that. It was on TV. But they said 
they only killed the bad people." 

The host produces a bottle of brandy 
and calls in the birthday girl, who 
models her crisp chiffon dress and 
pirouettes. A toast is made as shots are 
downed. Mony and his friends dismiss 
our talk as "politics," and the rest of the 
night is forgotten in alcohol. 

Gambling is a way of life for the 
adults. It is pursued with unflagging 
fascination from early in the evening to 
late the next morning, several nights a 
week. Each night a different host's floor 
is crowded with sessions of poker, 
blackjack and an unfamiliar game 
played around a blanket with mysteri- 
ous diagrams. The stakes are high: if 
you aren't willing to bet at least twenty 
dollars to get in, forget it. Sizeable 
fortunes can be made and lost, and 
nobody ever quits. 

While playing poker with three old 

women one night, Souvanna hands me 
what looks like a tobacco leaf and 
instructs me to dip it into some purple 
powder and chew it. I try not to lose my 
attention. Evidently, I'm supposed to 
chew the leaf and spit out the juice, not 
swallow it. When my head stops spin- 
ning, I realize that I'm a big loser at 
poker too. 

Later Souvanna, recognizing my fi- 
nancial misfortune, lets me in on what 
he promises is a formula for making a 
fortune. Of a group of 12, everybody 
promises to contribute a hundred dollars 
a month; if you want to collect $1200 
some month for any particular reason, 
it's yours with the stipulation that you 
pay an extra $100 that month. My math 
is bad, but Souvanna demonstrates to 
me that no matter what, since every 
month somebody collects, we all even- 
tually come out $100 richer. In what is 
obviously an act of bad faith, I skepti- 
cally decline the invitation. 

Most of these people work at low- 
wage jobs: washing dishes in Thai 
restaurants, day-labor construction, fish 
cleaning; many are dependent on wel- 
fare. So where do the rolls of large bills 
everybody seems to have for gambling 
come from? Maybe the sub-economy 
which they've invented is a way of 
rotating the riches that they'll likely 
never possess as individuals; maybe 
gambling is a way of facing fortune, a 
metaphor for fate or the randomness of 
the market. In any event, the intensity 
they bring to gambling shows something 

about luck and knowing when to make 
your move. 

Chuahan and I are visiting Sepane- 
rath and her children's new apartment in 
a new building behind the medical 
center. They only moved in a few days 
ago and most of their stuff is still in 
boxes. It's late, and the younger chil- 
dren are sleeping under a blanket on the 
carpet. It's more spacious and cleaner 
than their old place in the Tenderloin. 
Sepanerath's new boyfriend is paying 
for it; she doesn't want her oldest son, 
Bounari (already 11) to grow up to 
become a gangster like the other Cam- 
bodian kids. She tells us that this new 
environment (a mile or so away) will 
help keep him away from the influence 
of gangs. 

Nancy, her only daughter, always 
wears new dresses and jewelry, and she's 
self-conscious of her looks as she serves 
us soup and fish balls. I notice Nancy's 
similarities to her mother by checking 
her against an enlarged photo framed on 
the wall of a younger Sepanerath smiling 
triumphandy, wearing a disco dress 
sparkling with gold. 

Chuahan opens the bottle of wine 
we've brought as a house-warming pre- 
sent and pours everybody a glass, 
including five-year old Peter, who gulps 
it right away, defiantly. 

Nancy and Bounari give me a tour of 
all (three) rooms. Sepanerath and her 
boyfriend (who's at work) have their 
own room now. Bounari turns on the 
jam-box I gave him ("Wild Thing^). For 

drccn ICeftoucra 

As Gramsci once 
said, to be a grass- 
roots workers' 
movemerxt, you 
must draw from 
their own culture 






a construction worker 

for suburban sprawl I 

was able to save enough 

money to become a 
full-time Green ActivistI 

Anybody who 

disagrees with ME 

is a RACIST! 

* All dialogue 
guaranteed verbatim. 


a long time he kept asking me to get him 
batteries until he told me that his 
mother's boyfriend was using the electric 
cord to whip Peter. I feel guilty when I 
look at Peter, who's bouncing off the 
walls. They're excited because their 
mothers let them take the week off from 
school and they are up past their bed 

While we draw pictures of monkeys, 
Buddhas, and race cars, I think about 
how Nancy can be particularly vicious 
to her friend, Bounthoum, who has a 
mouth full of jagged, mangled teeth and 
bad breath. "Bounthoum fucks her boy- 
friends! Bounthoum fucks — [every boy 
in earshot]." Bounthoum's clothes are 
always dirty and several sizes outgrown, 
not like Princess Nancy, who leads the 
other children in chants to upset a shaky 

Peter's bumping into me until he falls 
face-flat on the floor and begins snoring 
away. Nancy's telling me about her 
favorite teachers and classes. After a 
while it occurs to me that they haven't 
been to school because they don't know 
yet where their new school is; once 
again, they've ventured beyond the 
familiar and are waiting. 

In all the months I've known Nancy, 
I've never once worried about her, even 
when she lived among rapists and 
murderers. She carries more adult re- 
sponsibilities at eight years than most 
people do in a lifetime, and she seems to 
take it in stride. So I'm surprised that 
now, all of a sudden, seeing her in this 
safe, electrified condo, I detect some- 
thing like a worried little girl in her 

Driving home in his new sports car, 
Chuahan tells me that Sepanerath's a 
"racist bitch" who just wants to be a 
white American. The social worker with 
the master's degree in English tells me 
that "they've turned their back on their 

I don't see the kids anymore. Fun 
becomes work. Taking four rambunc- 
tious kids someplace on the bus can be 
entertaining; trying to keep twenty-five 
together can shave years off your life. 

Chuahan got a job as director of a 
weekend activities program; I was his 
"assistant." Obnoxiously called "Super 
Saturday Plus," it was funded by a grant 
from the Embarcadero Corporation to 
St. Mark's Church — both large real- 
estate businesses in San Francisco. We 
were assured that we would have the 
freedom to let the kids do what they 
wanted— and there would be no reli- 
gious proselytizing! 


is your flower patch overrun with 


Then you should try the new organic, wholistic philosophy of 



Just sprinkle Liberally throughout your yard . . . 
Before you can blink, every possible color will be 
racing into view. 

The kids' participation was entirely 
voluntary — there was no point to it 
unless they had fun. I thought it would 
be cool to have a place outside the 
playground-less Tenderloin for the kids 
to paint, learn baseball, play blackjack, 
whatever. They spent all week being 
bussed to a school at the Treasure Island 
military base. 

The main area that St. Mark's allot- 
ted for the kids was a stuffy basement 
with pictures of the last hundred years of 
the Lutheran hierarchy on the wall. The 
outside "play area" was a dismal con- 
crete plaza of the type that condo 
developers throw in for "public space" 
tax rebates. I took great satisfaction in 
seeing the kids reduce the place to a 

All went well until various adminis- 
trative busybodies insisted on playing a 
more "active" role. One was a hefty- 
buttocked old hen who the kids called 
"the Ghost" because of her dull grey 
complexion and cop mentality. She 
invited the St. Mark's minister to make a 
Thanksgiving speech to the kids about 
"how they should be thankful for all that 
they've been given." That was too much. 
When the day came for his speech he left 
in a huff because the kids refused to 

settle down and listen to his bullshit. I 
remember the look he shot me as he 
headed for his car (I was in the parking 
lot with the basketball dissidents); in one 
hand he had his briefcase, in the other a 
plate full of turkey and mashed pota- 
toes, but his eyes said it all. Subse- 
quently, Chuahan informed me that I 
had been retroactively "not hired" and 
wouldn't receive the wages that had 
been promised me. 

Chuahan, a true professional, 
couldn't quit as easily as me. He had a 
reputation to protect among wealthy 
patrons of social workers. When Christ- 
mas came around he had to gather the 
kids together and take them to the 
Embarcadero plaza for the annual holi- 
day lighting of those hideous slabs of 
office building (where I worked as a 
temp, as a matter of fact). The whole 
thing was a photo-opportunity for city 
big- shots and the next day on the cover 
of the newspaper was a soft-lens picture 
of Bounthoum holding a candle. The 
kids, in the generous gratitude of the 
event's wealthy sponsors, were each 
given a single McDonald's hamburger 
— no fries, no apple pie, no coke. Not 
even a cheeseburger! 

— Mickey D. 



^fiSte^:^-^ ,^2g^. 

Interview with Markus, Amerigo, 
Pelona and Ramblin' de Kay — of the 
collective that publishes Mercury Ris- 
ing, a new magazine by and for bike 
messengers. Interview conducted by 
Chris Carlsson on January 11, 1992, 
in San Francisco's Mission district. 

Amerigo: Mercury Rising was Mar- 
kus's idea, really. 

Markus: One of the major companies 
in town, Executive Courier, lowered 
commission rates from 50 percent to 48 
percent, which is a 4 percent pay cut, on 
a couple of days notice. I was down the 
next morning with a flyer telling every- 
body to go out on a wildcat strike. It was 
clear that that wasn't going to be 
happening. The day after that I had a 
petition about why management was 
going to have to give something if they 
were going to take money out of people's 
pockets. I don't think anyone signed it 

and it ended up being a big personal 
defeat, but it did end up getting a bunch 
of us thinking. We all talk about work 
after work. 

Amerigo: Yeah, too much! 

Markus: We realized that we need 
something that gives people the nerve, 
that mzikes them feel confident enough 
that they could have a wildcat strike if 
the time comes, or to do any kind of 
solidarity action. People have to com- 
municate and in our business there's still 
quite a bit of turnover, and always a lot 
of new people on the street. At times it's 
very much of a community and one big 
family, but in another way it's pretty 
atomized, and we have a lot of getting- 
together to do before we can fight for the 
survival of our profession, which ac- 
cording to the front page of last Wed- 
nesday's San Francisco Chronicle, is 
threatened with extinction. 

PW: It sounds like one of the main 
goals is the development of some kind of 

Amerigo: No one is just a messenger. 
Everyone has outside trips: they're in 
bands, they do 'zines. This is a way to 
get all that in, print people's poetry, 
print people's artwork, you know, 
spread the word about other people's 

Markus: We give everyone a forum 
to print stuff that isn't directly related to 
our organizational goals for bike mes- 
sengers. Still, it's really good for those 
long-term goals because we are getting 
together in different areas of people's 

Amerigo: MR is the first thing that 
I've ever dealt with on any level (I've 
worked at legitimate newspapers, too) 
where everyone is so enthusiastic. Peo- 
ple keep pouring in their stuff, you don't 



have to go and beg for contributions. 
People pay for it, they're excited and 
happy to see it. 

Pelona: People are asking, "Oh, 
when's the next Mercury Rising coming 

Markus: It's amazing how quickly it 
found its audience, it's like a big success. 
The first day, the first issue, I'll never 
forget. It came out late in the afternoon 
and it was on a Friday. We always try to 
release on a Friday cuz that's when 
people are flush. When I got home, my 
pockets bulging with money, I put it out 
on the kitchen table and it was eighty- 
some bucks. 

Amerigo: In quarters! 

PW: Does working on Mercury Rising 
make the prospect of being a messenger 
any easier? 

Amerigo: It's like a total immersion 
in the culture, it's almost too much. 

Pelona: I've met so many more 
people since I've been working on this. I 
feel more a part of the community now, 
so I guess I do have more reason to stay 
in it. I was going to leave San Francisco 
to go back to college. I couldn't stand 
my job! Bike messengering, I thought 
"How can I get out of this?" But I didn't 
think at all in terms of how can I make 
this a better situation. I just wanted to 
personally get out of it, but I see the 
situation differently now. 

Markus: I've always had this roman- 
tic fixation on this particular job. It's 
also convenient for me to do the other 
things I want to do, like I was able to 


""""Bv v.iuvcj,,,,, 

work part-time and come back full-time 
in the summer and January so I could 
go to school for those five years. It's 
really a great job to have if you're 
playing music because there's a lot of 
other messengers who tend to be into 
music and in bands too. 

PW: What makes it a lovable job? 

Amerigo: The people involved, 
they're just the most hilarious, amazing 
or strange, bizarre people you'll ever 
meet. The most eclectic collection of 
individuals ranging across every inter- 
est, every intelligence, [laughter] 

Markus: And age group, we're not all 
a bunch of young people. There are 
people raising families on this more and 

PW: Is it a health choice for some? 
Amerigo: Some people do it cause 
they're into biking, some people just like 
to stay in shape. 

Pelona: I can't sit down for a long 
time every day. I recilly need to bike two 
or three hours a day or I don't feel right. 
I like being outside. I meet a lot of 
different people in elevators and I feel 
really free to make comments about 
what they're saying, since I'm not going 
to ever see them again. You're alone a 
lot of time, you can think about whatev- 
er you want, that's the greatest resource 
of this job. You're doing this thing 
physically, but your mind is totally free, 
you can be thinking whatever you want 
and no one is looking over you. 

Amerigo: You get totally addicted to 
the adrenalin too, a physical addiction. I 
almost get killed a couple of times a day 
and get so wired, I'll be jump- 
ing up and down. The 
days when I work and 
the days I don't work are 
so different. 
Markus: And when it's 
really happening, like in 
the last three hours of the 
day you make like $30 an 
hour, it's just go go go, 
getting weird waiting time, 
having incredible luck and 
making all this money when 
you've had a shitty morning 
or something. It's recdly fan- 
tastic and you feel like you've 
just been through this incredi- 
Sj / ble adventure, especially when 
* / you've done it on acid! 


PW: Bike messengering has 

that exhilaration that comes 

from exertion. You can exert 

yourself and do better as a result 

— that's not true of a lot of work. 

You're in a bank with this huge 

stack of paper on your desk. 

You work extra hard to get , .^^ 

through it, and at the end of *\ 

the day a new stack of paper is "^^ 

on your desk. *»^..,.,. 

Ramblin': Going into so many build- 
ings, it's so stagnant and antiseptic. You 
deliver your package and you just don't 
want to be a part of that — it's bad 
enough to deliver the package! 

Pelona: It's true, many times a day 
you think "Oh god, if I quit I'll have to do 
something like this [office work]." Peo- 
ple are all sitting around in these 
expensive clothes, looking so bored. 

Markus: After going to so many 
offices for so many years you start 
seeing everyone else's work as "all those 
jobs," and bike messengers as "your 
job." You do learn where there are some 
groovy offices, where people have a 
good time, but mostly. . . 

Amerigo: Then there's places like 
Bechtel, where you go in and people's 
bodies are weirdly shaped, sad faces like 
they're in jail or something, and you go 
into those rooms where all the comput- 
ers are, and it's chilled to like 50 
degrees, and you think "Oh I wish I 
could work like this." [laughter] 

PW: Do you agree that bike messen- 
gering is a dying niche because of fax 
machines and rising workmen's com- 
pensation insurance rates? 

Amerigo: No, there are more mes- 
sengers here than ever. 

PW: How many do you think there 

Amerigo: I've heard anywhere from 
200 to 600. I'd estimate around 400-450, 


that's including scooters and walkers. 
You just see more than ever, and there 
are new businesses popping up all the 
time. Definitely the industry is chang- 
ing. It's moving away from where you 
have your company bike. There's all 
sorts of different companies now, and 
lots of them don't have insurance and 
that's scary. 

PW: So if you get hurt, it's just tough 

Amerigo: Yeah. 

Ramblin': That's part of a trend 
among big companies to treat messen- 
gers as merely a commodity, and not as 
part of the company itself, merely a 
means of landing larger contracts. 

PW: So what about the general 
profitability of bike messengering? Isn't 
it true that the real money is made from 
the longer-distance truck tags? 

Markus: Our boss told us that it costs 
the same to administrate a $40 vehicle 
tag as it does to administer a $3 
downtown regular. 

Amerigo: So raise the rates! 

Markus: Our company has far more 
drivers than bikers. Now Courier, 
maybe we're up to a dozen bikers now, 
but we have about 40 drivers, maybe a 
couple of big accounts like IBM in 
Foster City. We bike messengers exist 

for the convenience of their downtown 
clients. Our company knows they need a 
certain number of bikes to keep things 
going, so they're supposedly committed 
to some people being able to make a 

A company like Aero, on the other 
hand, is committed to not letting anybody 
except maybe a few make a living. 
Everyone else is just supposed to cycle 
through really fast before they find out 
that they're getting ripped off. 

Anyway, about the "dying niche" — 
such bullshit, because it's been said as 
long as I've been in the business. In the 
local and national media the fax has 
been killing us off as our numbers grew 
year after year. I disagree with Amerigo 
in that I think there are finally a little bit 
less of us than there have been. We've 
kind of leveled off and the numbers have 
tapered a bit, and are likely to taper 
further, but that's not necessarily a bad 
thing for us. Those tapering numbers 
could indicate less rookie turnover and 
more stability and getting our business 
institutionalized. We can't make any 
progress as far as not being ripped off, 
as long as people are living under this 
useful illusion that we're on our way out. 

One of the main things 
we have to accomplish is to 
show ourselves, and the rest 
of the people out there in 
the City and the rest of the 
Bay Area that they should 
think of us as permanent, 
because there's going to be 
hundreds of us 

Contact Mercury Rising at 564 Mission St., 
#152, San Francisco, CA 94105. Samples: $2 

out here for a long time, and we should 
have the right to survive our jobs and 
not be killed. 

In future issues we have to have some 
kind of broad exploration on "Is the 
Messenger Business Dying?" since the 
controversy has been newly brought up. 
I think messengers haven't analyzed 
stuff that much yet, and kind of believe 
it, so we need to go public with a basic 
"why messengering isn't dying out." 

PW: And also why they're saying it 
is. . . 

Markus: We're happy to make three 
bills a week. 

Amerigo: I'd be ecstatic! I don't make 
that much. 

Pelona: My last paycheck was for 
$230 for seven days' work. 

Markus: That's an interesting di- 
chotomy because we're all involved in 
the same thing but because of the 
seniority system in our industry we're 
not really in the same boat economical- 

Pelona: One thing I don't like about 
messengering is that it makes you 
competitive with your co-workers, be- 
cause there's a certain amount of tags 
and some of them are good and some 
are shitty, and some people are going to 
get gravy and some will get shitty tags, 
^ and you want to get the gravy. If you're 
I working somewhere and they hire some 
more people, you can hate this person 
for like 2 or 3 days who's causing your 
paycheck to go down (not really of 
course). Until you meet them and talk to 
them and then they're just like you. 

Markus: I get to do this legal stuff, 
but I'm not the number one guy. They 
set up a pecking order and if we want 
our part in it we generally don't say 
anything. I got set up in a weird political 
situation because I'm in the "Inside 
Club," those who are trained — in other 
words, taken around by Joshua and 
shown how to get into the computers 
and the courts and stuff, introduced to 
docket clerks and shit like that. We get 
40 percent for doing jobs for this legal 
subsidiary company. If I'm doing just 
that work I can do that and no other tags 
for the normal company, but the way it 
is being #2 I just get it sometimes. I 
make 40 percent but if it gets too busy 
and they have to spin some of this work 
off to the regular Now riders, they make 
^0 percent. I sounded off about this and 
threatened to forego my position, but I 
ended up capitulating, although I con- 
tinue agitating for them to get a higher 
percentage. We get a lower percentage 


for legal work because there's a lot more 
work in the office processing this stuff. I 
have no problem making 40 percent. I 
guess there's some logic for there being 
some "club" that does it, that is mostly 
just a few people. But it's all pretty 
uncomfortable. It puts a strain on 
solidarity, no question, because I need 
all the dollars I can get. 

PW: Especially in this economic cli- 
mate! It's like musical chairs, and I'm in 
a chair and I'm staying right here, I 
don't care if they start the fucking 
music! [laughter]. 

Markus: We're in a business where 
there's more sophisticated technology, 
the fax, which can ostensibly do what we 
do better and cheaper, if you're only 
doing one or two pages. And then 
there's cars, an inferior technology, that 
can also do our job, and they're saying 
it's a superior technology. I'm sure there 
are niches for us like big clients that will 
go on needing the kind of service we 

Pelona: Another person was telling 
me about public-key encryption that 
allows documents to be sent between 
computers with a code that is as good as 
a signature. He told me that when this 
takes over it will eliminate some mes- 
senger business, because things like 
court filings that would need a lawyer's 
signature that we currently hand-deliver 
will be able to be sent by modem. And 
as the recession gets worse, a lot of the 
stuff we deliver is sent by messenger for 
the prestige of a "hand-delivered" letter 
via messenger, and people are just going 
to fucking put a stamp on it when 
the/re cutting costs. 


PW: What do you think are the 
advantages of a more informal approach 
to organizing versus something more 
traditional and formal? 

Ramblin': I think it's more enjoyable, 
so you spend more time on it, it's more 
sociable. The amount of effort you put 
into something is related to what is 
going to come out, and if you're working 
in these rigid, bureaucratic structures 
you're just hailf-assed about what you're 

Pelona: I belonged to the California 
State Education Association (CSEA) 
and the only thing I ever got out of it 
was a discount on ice skating. 

PW: How old were you then? 

Pelona: 18. 

PW: So you were just out of high 

school. Did you have any notions of the 
noble struggle of labor, or that you 
ought to belong to a union because that's 
what you do when you're a worker, or 
any of that kind of stuff? 

Pelona: The reason I joined is cause I 
was working in a school and then I got a 
job as a secretary for the teacher's union, 
and I felt so bad, here I was working for 
the teacher's union and I wasn't even a 
member of my own union, so I joined. 

Markus: We have a union shop in 
town. Express Messenger, a Teamsters 
shop. They're covered in issue 4 of MR. 
I worked there when they were one of 
the big companies in town with 30 + 
bikes, and was there for some of the 
struggle to get the Teamsters in. One of 
the reasons why bikers are a little 
reticent union-wise is that the Team- 
sters haven't particularly worked out for 

Amerigo: Wouldn't you say that 
Express, along with Aero, is about the 
worst-run, most inefficient company, 
and treats their messengers the worst of 
any company? 

Markus: Yeah, except that I would 
disagree about Aero, because it's well- 
run for the evil purposes to which they 
are directed. 

Pelona: Express is just incompetent. 

Markus: It really is, and I think they 
blame unionization for some of it. I 
think with messengers it would have to 
be a brand new, independently started 
thing that would have to take the form 
that people wanted from it. 

Ramblin': I didn't mean to hit too 
heavy on organized unions, I really do 
respect people who can work within that 

Markus: Oh yeah, unions are really 
big in my family. My dad is an IBEW 
man, he works at the Nevada Test Site 

on nuclear bombs, and my great-aunt 
was a big union organizer, too, on my 
mother's side. It's always been clear to 
me that workers should be organized. 

Mercury Rising is an unofficial pub- 
lication of the San Francisco Bike Mes- 
sengers Association. There is no "official 
thing" of the SFBMA- 

Amerigo: It's sort of an anarchist 
labor organization. 

Markus: Yeah, It's a disorganization 
at this point. It's evolving. . .1 think the 
S.F. Bike Messengers Association was 
started by Rich and Nosmo, the people 
from the other messenger magazine, 
MessPress, which you really must pick 
up. It's less political, but very cultural 
and joyful. About individualism, you 
were asking? Going independent is one 
of the big trends, and for a lot of people 
it may be the solution to our labor 

Amerigo: There's so many jobs, 
there's this big hype in America about 
this supposed work ethic, but it's so 
hypocritical. They're not working, 
they're just sitting there. That's why I'm 
proud to work commission. I only make 


^"^erwear... ;^ 

you don't 
change them often, they start to stink!" 


money when I work. I don't sit on my 
butt and get paid hourly. 

Pelona: We work really hard. I don't 
know if we said this, but. . . When I 
worked at Sizzler I worked really hard, 
but this is the hardest job I've ever had, 
the hardest money I've ever earned. 

Markus: Your labor is less alienated 
when you can feel how much you're 
making by how much you're working. 
Standing-by gets stressful if you do it too 
much, 'cause you go "Fuckinnotmak- 
in'anymoney!!" But generally you don't 
have to feel guilty about standing by, 
lots of time you just wanna staaaannd 
byy [laughter]. 

Pelona: Once you start standing by 
you just want to keep on standing by. 

Markus: Oh, when we're at the Wall, 
with friends and "proj," man the social 
life is just great! 

PW: You talked earlier about want- 
ing to make things more stable. . . how 
does the transiency among messengers 
affect you editorially? Does it cause you 
just to think to the next issue, or are you 
beginning to plan say, 12 issues down 
the road, what you will be publishing? 

Pelona: I've been thinking about this 
because officially I'm on leave of ab- 
sence from UC Santa Cruz and I told 
them I'd go back in the fall. Right now 
we're using Lydia's computer, which is at 
my house. But I'm sure something'll 
happen, it'll keep going. 

Amerigo: You're asking about trans- 
ient people? 

PW: One of your goals is to establish 
some kind of community of conscious- 
ness amongst people employed in simi- 

_ gEATH ' 


lar situations, and there's been senti- 
ment expressed for making it more 
permanent, more regularized. So trans- 
ience has a subversive impact on those 
kinds of goals, doesn't it? 

Amerigo: Even though it's bad that 
we're so disorganized, there's still good 
things about it. As far as messengers 
goes, there are a lot of them who've been 
on the street, lots of people who get off 
the street by being a messenger, and 
also people who end up on the street 
after being a messenger. Even though 
this is anti our labor goals of getting 
more money, it's still a place where you 
can get a job, even if you just got out of 
jail, even if you've got weird drug 
habits, even if you drool all over 
yourself and don't make any sense, 

Pelona: People accept you. 

Markus: I think that has already 
been sacrificed. On KPOO they asked 
me about messengering as a job for 
people just entering the market, and I 
realized that it's already gotten a lot 
more difficult to get in. Now veteran 
messengers who've left town, come back 
and have to wait around a while to get a 
job. There's just not as much transiency 
as there was, but still quite a bit, maybe 
100 a month! 

Pelona: This dispatcher who used to 
work at Express told me what happened 
when Express took over US Messenger. 
Apparently US had been a cool place to 
work, according to him; a lot of people 
who had been there for a while were 
making 55 percent or 56 percent com- 
mission, good money. But the messen- 
gers had a lot of say in how they would 
do what they would do. He told me they 
worked out a compromise between what 
needed to get done and how they wanted 
to do things, and the work got done, but 
everyone had fun and they got to be 
their own freaky personalities. When 

Express took over the new management 
wanted it run like a regular business, 
and they got rid of all these older people 
who were troublemakers, and they 
didn't cut slack for messengers' person- 
alities, they didn't like it when people 
called in sick. Well the reality is, you 
can't ride 8 or 9 hours a day really hard, 
every single day. You physically can't do 
it. You have to call in sometimes, you 
have to take breaks. They didn't under- 
stand that. He told me, the end of US 
was the end of what being a bike 
messenger was about being a freak and 
still getting the work done. 

PW: I find this strong affirmation of 
subcultural identity, of being "freaky," 
and embrace of a classic work ethic, a 
curious combination. A lot of times 
subcultures, especially around the music 
scene like the outside life of some 
messengers, are really anti-work. Yet 
the people doing bike messengering, at 
least you guys, are asserting a commit- 
ment to hard work, that you really want 
to earn your pay. 

Markus: I don't mind that. If I got 
paid decently, I could work 3 ^ or 4 
days a week and do the same job. If I 
could survive on doing three good 10 
hour days, the kind of days I normally 
work five of, like I would work harder 
because I would only be doing 3 of 
them. Boy, I would never look for 
another job, it would be great. Really, 
for those of us playing music, that's not 
anti-work either. It's another job. So's 
this publishing stuff. Lots of messengers 
are working incredibly hard on all kinds 
of things after those 10 hour days. 

Amerigo: As work it's fun, it's like a 

Ramblin': We talked at the start 
about the attempt to create some kind of 
community. I felt that [sense of com- 
munity] since I came over here [from 
England] and starting working as a 
messenger. I've met people who are so 
honest. They're interested in you if you 
want them to be. If you wanna bug off 
on your own and not talk to anyone, 
they're not going to hassle you. 

Pelona: I never felt like I was a 
messenger. Then I deformed my bike 
with a basket, decided I was a messen- 
ger, and started going out more and 
getting involved. 

Markus: She gave her bike a sex 
change, [laughter] . . . The fact of bike 
messenger subculture, I postulate, may 
be a key reason why they keep wanting 
us to be a disappearing occupation. 
Every other industry in this town whose 


numbers are maybe off 10 percent from 
what they've been through the '80s, 
they're not talking about those occupa- 
tions disappearing. Why are they talk- 
ing about us that way? 

PW: Solidarity in the face of bike 
theft is described in exciting detail in 
Mercury Rising. What other kinds of 
solidarity do you experience and can 
you foresee among bike messengers? 

Ramblin': I think the benefits [con- 
certs and parties] . 

Amerigo: Messengers came and do- 
nated money to get in, and bought beer 
and wine to help this guy out who got 
busted for some bogus drug charge. 

Markus: About half the gigs my band 
(L. Sid) has played have been messen- 
ger benefits. We had another one at 
Brave New World where Ramblin' 
works as a DJ Sunday nights. He's 
having a monthly benefit, like for a 
couple of messengers who cracked up off 
the job and missed some work time as a 
result. Of course no one's got health 

Pelona: There are so many people 
who get hurt, we could do a benefit 
every week easily. 

Amerigo: Right now Harvey's [5th 
Street Market] is our Corporate Head- 

PW: You've spoken with distance, if 
not disdain, toward the average office 
worker with whom you interact on a 
daily basis. My impression is that there 
is a similar, de facto dissidence among 
temps, in spite of the fact that it is often 
invisible. There are a lot of temps with 
an "Attitude." I wonder if there are any 
practical links between messengers and 

Ramblin': I know a couple of mes- 
sengers going out with secretaries, 

Markus: No, not much going on in 
that department yet. 

Pelona: A temp is someone who says, 
"What, a package? Ana L.? I don't know 
her extension!" That's our take on 

PW: Zoe Noe, when he used to 
messenger for Special T, he gave out a 
lot of Processed World propaganda, like 
the Bad Attitude Certificates. . . 

Pelona: [reading the bad attitude 
certificate] Oh, but stealing time, when 
we steal time we steal our own time, 

PW: Do messengers discuss the pur- 
pose of the work they do and what kinds 
of thoughts prevail? 

Pelona: We do a run for Citicorp. 

Our dispatcher has nicknames for cer- 
tain runs, it's called the ShameOn run — 

CORP. That woman, I forget her name 
[she's been picketing a downtown Citi- 
corp in SF for 2 years over some loan 
fraud she suffered — ed.] There's the 
Chickenbutt and the Bonehead, these 
are dailies, the American Dream Run. 

Pelona: There's a woman named 
Lynn Breedlove who I interviewed in 
the second issue, who started her own 
company, Lickety Split Delivery, but 
won't go out for corporate clients be- 
cause she doesn't want to work for 
Bechtel. The clients she pursues are 
tenants and legal aid groups, non-profit 
companies, and so on. 

Ramblin': I think your day job, 
whatever you're doing for money, it 
might be useless, but you still have this 
job where it doesn't destroy your other 
energies, and you have space to do 
whatever your particular interest is. 

Markus: It can destroy your physical 
energy sometimes, make you a little too 
exhausted to do as much as you want to 
do, but you don't have to compromise 
yourself too much to do it. Another 
thing, you get to learn a lot by being a 

Pelona: I've been bothered by the 
meaninglessness of this and really 
wished I was doing something mean- 

PW: What is Utopia, or at least a 
society worth fighting for, for you? 

Pelona: A society worth fighting for? 
In Utopia, there's no cars. Down the 
middle of the street, we're gonna tear up 
all the asphalt and there's gonna be 
gardens and orchards and you can just 
grab a peach as you re riding by 

Everyone's gonna work 20 hours a week 
at a job they find meaningful, and they 
can change jobs throughout their lives if 
they want to. And everyone is gonna get 
taken care of, maybe no one will have a 
lot of stuff but everyone will have 
shelter, everyone will have food — 

Markus: No one will have to worry 
about getting sick. 

Pelona: Yeah, if they get sick they'll 
be taken care of. 

Amerigo: People will care for each 
other, they'll understand. 

Pelona: Yeah, we'll have a feeling of 
community. You'll be able to walk 
everywhere you need to go, you really 
don't even need a bicycle. There'll be 
like small stores. . . 

PW: So a high level of self-sufficiency 
in local areas? 

Pelona: Yeah, so you know people. 

PW: Any ideas about how you'd 
relate to the larger world? 

Pelona: No, the whole world's gonna 
be like that! 

Amerigo: We'll all have separate 

Pelona: Someone else was talking 
about this, they were saying "Let's drive 
all the big corporations out of down- 
town." I said "Oh no, there won't be 
any bike messengers," but they said 
"Yeah, but bike messengers are going to 
be planting gardens and tearing up the 
streets and stuff." 

Amerigo: People need to be honest 
about their needs. You won't be re- 
pressed about things, and you won't deny 
things like death, you'll understand that 
there's a cycle and the whole of life will 
be accepted in balance. 

PW Yeah yeah sign me up' 


1 ) 

1 ) 



fong years. While I finished "growing up," I went 
daily from place to place between rows of heavily 
armed cops. May '68 had failed and martial law was 
in effect. 

May '68 had been a month of wildcat strikes and 
student demonstrations turning into a general 
strike. Imagine a whole country (50 million 
inhabitants) immobilized where business was con- 
cerned, but effervescent in political and social 
activities. Parisians met daily in the streets for 
discussions on the theme of the "quality of life." 
There was Viet-Nam, there were sit-ins, armed 
confrontations with the special national police 
trained for "riots" (Compagnie Republicaine de 
Securite aka CRS.) The walls bloomed with 
graffiti: "Culture is like jam, the less you have, the 
more you stretch it;" "Culture is a carnivorous 
plant;" "Plus je fais I'amour, plus je veux faire 
I'amour; plus je fais la revolution et plus je veux 
faire la revolution." Pardon my French: "The more 
I make love, the more I want to make love; The 
more I make revolution, the more. . ." Barricade 
building (thanks to abandoned street equipment) 
brought about the slogan: "Under the pavement 
you'll find the beach." (Sous les paves, la plage!) 
There were unauthorized street concerts, a piano 
was dragged from the dusty depths of La Sorbonne, 
there was spontaneous friendship, mutual support; 
generosity abounded. I was born to a larger reality 
after a sixteen-year sleep. 

Then the sacrosanct Summer Vacation inter- 
vened. Paris exchanged its usual population every 
summer for tourists and a skeleton crew of 
miserably paid North Africans to keep the streets 
clean. Despite promises that "the sum- 
mer would be hot" (L'ete 

repression set in (I was thrown out of high school at 
the end of 1969 and spent my last high school year 
in a private school), people went back to work and 
the social scene got grim as the government tight- 
ened the screws. 

Freedom of the press is not a "right" in France so 
the government succeeded in running underground 
presses out of existence. "Charlie Hebdo," my 
favorite weekly, was restricted when its front cover 
made fun of the then- recently dead De Gaulle. It 
could be sold at a magazine stand only if it was kept 
below the counter, shamefully out of sight. Mean- 
while Playboy and its kin were blazing on center 
stage and people got 18 months jail-time for selling 
the ludicrous maoist rag La Cause du Peuple. 

I left in 1971 at age 19, in pursuit of the dream of 
a sane society in which mutual aid was a reality. I 
had no concrete plan or methodology. I just hied 
out and struck north: aurora borealis, uncharted 
territories, wilderness a gogo. . . 

That got me stuck in Germany for two years, 
tramping one year and the next as a foreign 
language teacher in a high school. Germany wasn't 
terribly different from France. I was at home 
despite an ornery attitude towards the German 
language and history (they did kill my grandfather). 

I experienced German racism in one unforgetta- 
ble scene in 1972. At that time, foreigners were re- 
quired to check in with the authorities at regular 
intervals. My two American roomies and I showed 
up one cold winter day in Biberach- 
an-der-Riss to validate our papers. 
A minor bureaucrat was 
shoving papers 



I hated the States with 

a will. Everything hurt, from the 

discovery that broccoli was not some form of 

to taking a dislike to almost everyone I met. 


at a bewildered Turkish "Gastarbeiter": 
"Kannst du kein Deutsch verstehen?! ! !?" 
("Can't you understand German ?") 

I got angry and forgot the little 
German I thought I had, cailled the guy 
a Nazi (he looked like one, recycled) and 
more, in every language I could sum- 
mon and demanded to see his "superi- 
or." The pathetic little man crumbled. 
He let go of the Turks, processed my 
American friends and me real fast and 
gentle, apologized to me personally and 
we left. I was shaken by the experi- 
ence. . . but not enough to anticipate 
similar problems yet to come. 

In 1973 I "emigrated" to the US of A. 
I put it in quotes marks because I didn't 
realize it at the time. I was just checking 
the place out. I had a lot of informed 
reservations about it. 

My emigration problems started in 
Stuttgart, then in West Germany, 
where I naively told the bureaucrats that 
I was going to work in the States (one 
has to eat, ya know). Despite the fact 
that a friend had pretended to need my 
specific services, I was refused a work 
visa. So I asked for a tourist visa, 
sufficient to investigate the place for a 
while and decide on further action. This 
visa was immediately refused on the 
grounds that I had given away my real 
motives: possible immigration. 

Not a whit daunted, I drove to 
Munich and applied for a tourist visa, 
answering "NO!" to the question: 
"Have you ever applied for a tourist visa 
to the U.S. before?" For several hours, I 
watched tourists get their passports 
stamped with no problem. When my 
turn came, a flurry of activity preceded 
the arrival of a prim female army 
security officer who bade me accompany 
her for a special interview. Of course I 
thought Stuttgart had communicated to 
Munich that I was an undesirable fake 
tourist. Then I thought about my politi- 
cal activities in high school and on the 
Nanterre campus since 1968. I was 
freaked but had to face up. 

To my relief, the big deal was that I 
was a French citizen going to the U.S. 
from Germany. Apparently a highly sus- 
picious move. Why didn't I go from 
France? Because I happened to live in 
Germany. This was long before the 
concept of a Euro-community had made 
much inroad on public consciousness. 

The next question was "why did I 
want to visit the States?" Naively I 
stated the truth. I had shared my digs 
with two Americans who had made 
visiting their country (the famed "bas- 

tion de la reaction") sound like an 
interesting proposition. Then she asked: 
"Are you going back with him?" Startled 
about the concept of "going back," I 
blurted "which him?" It came out that 
my "American" accent was too perfect 
for this uniformed woman to believe 
that I had never been to the States 
before. I was most assuredly lying about 
previous visits indicating dark and pos- 
sibly terroristic reasons for my "return." 
I managed to convince my interrogator 
that the only English-speaiking country I 
had ever seen was Great Britain (several 
times) and that I had no hope of 
reproducing or even approximating 
their accent. 

Relentlessly, she went on: "Do you 
plan to marry him?" The thought, at 
twenty-one, of being married at all, 
much less married to my current Amer- 
ican lover was funny. I laughed . . .too 
hard. This displeased my interviewer 
who saw nothing funny about marriage. 
(She was right.) I assured her I was way 
too young to consider marriage serious- 
ly, especially to an American. This did 

not amuse her much but she stamped 
my passport with a three month visa and 
released me to the July sunlight of 
Munich. What a relief! A month later, I 
was in Colorado, culture-shocked and 
bewildered about my decision. 

While passing the New York border 
guards, my visa was cut down to one 
month on monetary grounds, despite 
my explanation that the cash I carried 
($300) was just pocket money. I was to 
live with a good Mormon family in 
Colorado and could wire home for more 
pocket money if needed. No go. "Amer- 
ica is expensive" I was told as my French 
passport was inscribed with slashes and 
lots of red ink. That was OK though, 
since meanwhile my boyfriend had 
successfully smuggled some hashish past 
the whiskers of his border guard. We'd 
worry about my status later. The dope 
was safe! Also, he was the one who had 
suggested, after my failure to obtain a 
visa in Stuttgart, that Munich was the 
next option. So I believed he would 
come up with some solution. I was soon 
to taste the fruit of his solution: marri- 

prcx;essed world 29 

One month passed in the bHnk of an 
eye. I hated the States with a will. 
Everything hurt, from the discovery 
that broccoli was not some form of pasta 
to taking a dislike to almost everyone I 
met. Were all Americans bigots, patri- 
ots and political dolts? One month was 
not enough time. The place was bewil- 
deringly vast. You could drive nonstop 
for three days from Pennsylvania to 
California, yet the language , except for 
accents, did not change. And in Ameri- 
ca as in Germany aliens had to register 
once a year with la migra as to wherea- 
bouts and occupations. Every January, 
TV screens reminded whoever would 
listen that aliens were to be accounted 

My "boifurendo" (boyfriend, for those 
who don't twig Japenglish) kept insisting 
that marriage would be painless, a mere 
formality that would solve my visa 
problems once and for all. My parents 
and almost all my friends' parents had 
divorced which made me very suspi- 
cious of the institution. A bit of research 
showed that it was a business contract 
designed to ensure that the woman's 

property (where she had any or even 
rights to it) and children would hence 
become the property of the husband. 
Divorce voided the bit about "'til Death 
do us part," except in the matter of 
property. There is no "parting" of the 
powerful from their property. Ask the 
world's impoverished female masses. 

On September 10, 1973 I married the 
boyfriend. I wore jeans to the court- 
house where I was handed a congratula- 
tory "gift" for brides. Talk about poi- 
soned apples: it contained mouthwash, 
douche packets, aspirin and many cou- 
pons for sanitary products to keep you 
fresh and sexy for your lawful hubby. 
No condoms, though. 

By November I knew I was pregnant. 
Decision making time. This kid felt real 
in more ways than one. . Despite 
misgivings about the status of my rela- 
tionship with my husband, it was now or 
never. I did it. I gave birth to this 
wondrous new being and never regret- 
ted it despite the adventures to come. 
Giving birth is the greatest high one can 
experience. Trust me. 

The culture shock spread. Being 

married to an American was a desperate 
experience. Exchanging Paris for Fort 
Collins, CO, USA, was a bad idea. Let 
me give an example of cultural un-ease. 
As a teenager I had a bout with 
hypoglycemic perturbations. I passed 
out if I didn't watch the blood sugars. I 
passed out in the weirdest places and 
times: Demonstrations, history classes, 
trains, etc . . . People had always helped; 
Many knew the simple solution to this 
coma: sugar cubes in their paper wrap- 
pers, lifted from restaurants. 

I passed out in downtown Fort Collins 
on December 24, 1973. Everyone was 

^ ^[^DT©[^ wm \Mmi\u 

about living in the U.S. Why on earth 
would a non-American leftist choose to live 
in the "Great Satan?" If you're born 
American that's unfortunate and you have 
little choice, but to come of your own 
volition seems perverse. It wasn't as if I 
could claim to be fleeing desperate eco- 
nomic conditions or political repression (at 
least not in the Third World sense). I came 
just because I had nothing better to do, so I 
feel unworthy of the term "immigrant." 

It happened six years ago when a 
woman I'd met in Europe the previous 
summer and corresponded with suggested 
I come live with her in New York. I jumped 
at the chance, not only because I was 
infatuated with her, but because it sound- 
ed like an exciting and irresponsibly impul- 
sive thing to do. I gave little thought to 
how long I would stay, consumed by the 
idea that for the first time I had a chance to 
do something larger than life. This was a 
new frontier — New York, the quintessenti- 
al urban experience, and beyond that the 
vast expanse of America. I read Kerouac's 
On the Road as preparation. 

It was with little regret that I gave up my 
Brighton bedsit with burns in the carpet 
and gaps in the window sashes through 
which the wind whistled, and my place 
among the nanks of the unemployed. 
Leaving family and friends was harder. In 

return I shared my American girlfriend's 
small one bedroom apartment in a dilapi- 
dated building that perpetually smelled of 
garbage and took a menial clerical job in an 
office where they were prepared to over- 
look my lack of working papers. Thatcher's 
Britain for Reagan's America. It was at 
best a sideways move. 

My first sense of unease with my 
adopted country came in 1986 with the 
centennial celebrations of the Statue of 
Liberty which occurred shortly after my 
arrival. While the few Americans I knew 
—friends of my girlfriend — saw it as noth- 
ing more than good clean fun, I couldn't 
help but view it as an orgy of nationalism, 
militarism, and self-congratulatory back- 
slapping— the like of which hadn't been 
seen since the Nuremburg rallies. Since I 
had yet to develop my own circle of 
friends, I didn't realize I was not alone with 
these opinions. I was unaware of the 
alternative "celebrations" and protests 
that were taking place. While my girlfriend 
shared some of my distaste, she thought I 
was taking things too far and being an 
incorrigible party-pooper. I was a minority 
of one. Had I come to America just to 
participate in a jingofest? 

Feeling as I did, I was at a loss when 
asked — and I was asked frequently — the 
inevitable question, "So how do you like 
America?" I liked it, sure I did. Didn't I? 

After all, broke as I was, I could still afford 
the airfare back to England. If I was 
straight with myself, I would say that it was 
without doubt an interesting experience, 
but I couldn't in all honesty say I really liked 
it. I liked Americans and things American, 
but it was a long time before I felt 
comfortable with confessing to liking 
America, before its good points (more 
subtle than its bad ones) became known to 
me, and, more importantly, before I real- 
ized that my fondness for and appreciation 
of it could be on my own terms: extremely 
qualified and very equivocal. 

Whatever my initial reservations, it was 
exciting. For the first few months even my 
job— ferreting around in filing cabinets and 
repetitive data entry— seemed exotic. My 
coworkers had strange accents and an 
exuberance you scarcely find in England. 
While my new life in the New World was in 
many ways similar to my old life in the old 
one, the props were decidedly different. 
My senses were reawakened and I felt 
compelled to carry a notebook in which I 
would scribble my observations. Going to 
the store, riding the subway, walking down 
the street, everything was an adventure. 
• The fly in the ointment was, of course, 
money, or the lack of it. I had arrived with 
only $200 and the job barely paid the rent. 
My girlfriend was a student and worked in 
a bar at night. The solution to our econom- 
ic woes seemed to be a green card, 


busy with last minute shopping for 
Xmas. No one stopped to offer help. I 
got looks which worried me: not at all the 
European looks I was used to but looks 
that threatened to be followed by cow- 
boy boots grinding my face further into 
the snow. 

Later, friends explained the "why" of 
this asocial behavior. I could have sued 
anyone who stopped to help, they said. I 
was horrified at the weirdness of the 
thought: In Europe, it is a crime not to 
assist persons in danger. Thus I was 
taught that survival in the USA has 
different parameters. This incident ef- 
fected a cure. Hallelujah! (Or was it 
physical maturity?) 

When my daughter was born I'd 
wanted to call her Solitude. My hus- 
band nixed the name. I became a wife. I 
lost my name. I was X's mother and Y's 
wife. It threatened my identity and I 
became deeply depressed, even suicidal. 
I divorced instead of dying, both messy 
propositions. I was isolated, penniless 
and naive. I got screwed. Hubby got 
custody. I took the pro bono lawyer 

opening up (what seemed from the outside 
looicing in) a world of opportunity thus far 
denied me. To this end we were married on 
the back lawn of a rather bemused-looking 
justice of the peace somewhere in upstate 
New York. An old school friend who was 
with us played chauffeur and drove us to 
Niagara Falls for the "honeymoon." 

I felt total indifference to marriage. I 
naively failed to see why it should change 
things. It was a practical solution to a 
logistical problem. It was "real" in the 
sense that we had every intention of 
continuing to live together (till difference, if 
not death, do us part), but "arranged" in 
the sense that marriage would— at the 
ages of 22 and 24— never have crossed our 
minds had the green card not been an 

In the end, the labels of "husband" and 
"wife," and the changed expectations of 
others, who now saw us as a "responsible 
married couple" rather than happy-go- 
lucky single people, contributed to its 
demise two years later. By that time I'd 
built some kind of self-perpetuating life in 
the U.S. I also met my present partner, 
Frances (another American), so despite 
plans to return to England I remained in 
New York another two years. 

In the spring of 1990, Fran and I left New 
York to travel throughout Central and 
South America. This was to be the final act 
of my American odyssey, after which we 
would "retire" to a more sedate and simple 

way of life in semi-rural England. We 
returned ten months later to New York 
enriched by the experience, but not know- 
ing where to go or what to do next. The 
plausibility of a return to the old world 
quickly evaporated. When it came time to 
return I got cold feet. I realized it was not 
England I missed, but the idea of England. 
A combination of being away too long and 
watching too much Masterpiece Theatre, 
I'd created a myth of England that it could 
never live up to in reality. 

Every year I would go to England 
sometimes for a month, usually just for a 
week. I always had a great time and was 
sad to leave. But I knew that were I to 
move back, the euphoria could never be 
sustained. It's one thing to visit for a week 
and spend it drinking with old friends, 
another entirely to live there and have to 
worry about the mundanities of everyday 
life, like getting a job, a place to live, etc. In 
the end we decided against England — or at 
least deferred it for the time being — and 
came to San Francisco instead. Another 
new life, reassuringly like the old one with 
a similar cast of characters, but sufficiently 
different to feel challenging. 

I used to feel that I had two lives, one in 
England, one in the States. The first could 
never be taken away from me — my birth- 
right, if you like. The second existed as 
long as I lived in America. At first I was 
anxious not to lose touch with England, to 
keep this first life very much alive. I read 
the Guardian Weeiily, wrote to friends 

regularly, even listened to the BBC World 
Service. But in the last two years I've let 
things slip. England seems more and more 
like a distant memory, a foreign country to 
me. I have only a vague idea of what's 
going on there and have become painfully 
aware that I cannot expect the same level 
of intimacy from friends who, once an 
integral part of my life, I now see only once 
a year, and from whom I am a world apart. 
Parallel lives cannot be sustained indefin- 
itely, ultimately I have to choose between 
one and the other. 

I can always go back, there'll always be 
enough to build on. But were I to go back, I 
don't think I'd feel like that option were 
reversed. By staying here, not only do I 
preserve the idea of England which I have 
become so attached to and avoid the 
inevitable shattering of illusions, but I also 
keep my options open. 

Today America is no longer a travel 
adventure, just everyday life, the "general 
drama of pain." I am as assimilated as I'll 
ever be, speak fluent American and though 
I retain an accent, people rarely ask me any 
more how I like America, since I no longer 
look like a tourist. What keeps me here is 
what keeps anyone anywhere: inertia, the 
idea that it's harder to leave, for whatever 
reasons, than to stay. When I visit England 
I still call it "home," but I have come to 
terms with the fact that this is probably 
more out of nostalgia than anything else. 

— Iguana Menle 


assigned to my case by Legal Services 
(later killed by Reagan's funding starva- 
tion of social services) all the way to the 
Supreme Court of Colorado for misrep- 
resentation of the laws. His pudgy 
be-ringed little hand was slapped: He 
had been "ill-advised" to take money 
from the wrong party. Illegal? Maybe 
but I did not regain custody and am still 
in debt to boot. 

From Mudhole to Lily Pad 

I was divorced on my twenty-fifth 
birthday. March 10 has been a strange 
double celebration ever since. At last I 
could unfold my own wings again and 
resume my quest for the foreign grail. 

I moved to Berkeley because the 
university had a better language pro- 
gram, especially Oriental languages, 
than Boulder U. could ever hope to 
develop. I wanted to go to China, armed 
with a smattering of mandarin and 
historical understanding. 

Since '68, I had held the belief that the 
Chinese model might be a pointer to 
future societies: Share and Care, bro'! I 
had great admiration for the accom- 
plishments of the Maoist revolution; it 
ain't easy to take a huge, backwards 
agricultural country into the age of 
information at a single bound. I be- 
lieved the propaganda. 

When "normalization" occurred in 
1979 (keep in mind that France "recog- 
nized" China in 1958). I thought I 
should obtain an American passport to 
avoid a repeat of my Munich adventure 
on a larger scale. I filed for U.S. 
citizenship in '80. 

Due to changing immigration laws 
and the impending "pardon" granted to 
illegal aliens and their employers, it took 

a couple of years before I was notified by 
mail that I was to take a proficiency 
exam at the Immigration and Naturali- 
zation Office (INS where S is for 
Service — don't sneer) in San Francisco. 
No problem. I was getting to be less 
naive by then, but not enough. At the 
appointed time and place, I seemed to 
be the only white person fluent in the 
language and basic political organiza- 
tion which we all were to be quizzed on. 
I coached a couple of panicked South 
American women, was called to the 
"bench" and promptly forgot you had 
two senaturds per state or whatever. 
Still I passed. A couple more years' wait 

In 1984 a phone call woke me from 
slumber. A directive had been received 
at one of my old addresses which 
warranted the intervention of yet an- 
other lawyer. The pal sounding the 
warning was in the know: as a law 
student, he had a teacher specializing in 
immigration. I quickly visited her. She 
was as puzzled by the strange notice 
from INS as I was. We decided to go 
and see. 

So on July 14, 1984, my daughter, 
lawyer and I dressed in unlikely skirts 
and headed for our rendezvous. That's 
where and when the shit hit the fan. 
First the INS lawyer ejected the kid 
from this meeting on the grounds of 
"hardship to the child." Then "my" 
lawyer declared that it was a public 
meeting: he'd better state his reasons for 
ousting the kid. The guy explained that 
tough sex questions were to be asked. I 
laughed. . . Hard. The INS lawyer- 
flunky did not think it funny. He was 
right. The kid came back in and 
grabbed my hand, which she played 

with throughout my interrogation. 

It was a humorless interlude. After 
two hours of questioning, it was obvious 
that a private letter of "denunciation" 
was at the root of my troubles. The INS 
lawyer flunky declined to state the 
identity of his informant but it was not 
necessary: Only my daughter's father 
could have done such a thing. I was 
accused of being "to the left of the 
French Communist Party" and of being 
a lesbian. 

The U.S. of A. barred "known" 
leftists and homos from visiting this 
country until recently (The McCarran- 
Walter Act was repealed in 1990), and 
certainly would not grant them citizen- 
ship. You don't want more commie gays 
voting, do you? There was no appeal to 
the INS decision. The truth is no 
defense. One private letter of denuncia- 
tion was enough to bar me from citizen- 
ship. I am not inclined to try again. 

The lawyer, my daughter and I 
shared a "celebratory" toast after the 
INS session. Eight years old at the time, 
my daughter was upset and asked many 
questions. How to explain inequity to 
the innocent? We had an interesting 
discussion on the subject of "lying," its 
origins (authority), its uses (self- 
defense) and the possible neurosis, hy- 
pocrisy ascendant, which reliance on lies 
could bring. 

In return she delighted us with the 
following story: "Mom, do you know 
what I was doing with your hand?" I did 
not know the meaning of her magical 
manipulations. So she demonstrated: 
folding four fingers of my hand against 
the palm, she left the middle finger 
upright and pointing at authority "avec 

Talking with numerous exiles from 
different parts of the globe brought me 
to the conclusion that exporting oneself 
is hard work. You'll never fit snugly in 
any one culture again. The grass is 
never greener on the other side. Socie- 
ty's problems are global. One's interac- 
tion is perforce local. The locale is less 
important than the will to achieve the 
improbable: quality of life! 

It is doubtful that I'll ever get to 
immerse myself in China. I could barely 
do it in the US. The effort to jump 
across one more pond and sever all ties 
to the known cultural universe is too 
much for me. I have accepted my 
limitations. Even though American 
friends will tell you that I have become an 
American, I am in fact just a Frog at 

— Frog 


New to the U.S.? Let Us Help You Be More Like US! 

Put Your Foot on the Accelerator and Get Down to 



These Great Features Included 

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Pigmentary Realignment and Color Correction optional 

* Free Statue ol Liberty paperweight! 



Ironing Out The Wrinkles 



• Shorter Attention Span 

• Enjoying Golf on TV 

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Your Upward Mobility Starter Kit includes: 

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garbage bags, band-aids, vaseline, disposable lighter, coupons, 

carpet remnant, 10 lbs. rags, aluminum can crusher (large cinder block) 

Unsuccessful Transplantees will be posthumously honored! 



LJ OiLl \ 11 . 


Philosophy is really homesickness, 

it is the urge to be at home everywhere. 

— Novalis 

WE WANT YOU BACK implore the signs over the 
front fenders of MUNI buses. HAVE YOU 
COME. . .YET? demand the bus shelters. Guilt trip, 
courtesy AT & T, which wants us to reach ever farther 
out, and touch everyone (fiber optically). 

For the emigre in autumn, these pleas reach deep; as 
a green-card-carrying (though the card is predominant- 
ly pink), bona fide "resident alien," I worry about the 
atomized spirit spinning round in circles of infinite 
regression, the elusiveness of home, the marketing and 
manipulation of migration. 

Gertrude Stein once belittled her native Oakland, 
saying "There is no there there." San Francisco Bay 
Areans today find that among the East Bay (Berkeley- 
Oakland- Emeryville), the technopolitan villages of 
Silicon Valley, the lucid but fuzzy, well-heeled dream- 
ers of the north counties (Marin and Sonoma), the 
scattered but emerging virtual communities, and the 
City (San Francisco), there are a multiplicity of heres 
and nows with an especially rich yield— high-grade 
either ore. 

Like most in the Bay Area, I was drawn here from 
afar. It may be the fog, or living on the edge of a 
continent — the playing- with-fire mode of existence we 
take for granted— or the exquisitely varied cultural soup 
that draws us from all over, in preference to the thin 
gruel we've found elsewhere. Northern Californians are 
justifiably accused of superiority; when we look to L.A., 
it's easy to feel detached (different faultzones) from the 
rest of the state, to say nothing of these disUnited States. 


Though I look right at home 

I still feel like an exile 

— Elvis Costello 

Remaining an alien thousands of miles from "home" 
has given me a finer appreciation for things Canadian 
than my first two decades there ever did. Since coming 
to America (the Ewe Ass of Eh) — the bellum of the 
beast, as it were— I feel the clarity of detachment in 
viewing the varied strangenesses of both my distant and 
adopted homes. 

Yet however great my disdain for the state of things 
here, I am still humbled and saddened by the sense of 
identity-confusion which is a fundamental part of the 
Canadian condition. Caught in the shadow of two 
empires — British and American— Canada is saddled 
with a world-class inferiority complex. 


The city is born, in my opinion, 

when each of us for himself is insufficient 

and has need of others. 


During the 1988 economic summit conference held in 

Toronto, the ABC news anchor Peter Jennings (himself 

a one-time Tronnan) called it "the city that plays 

anyplace, but is still waiting to play itself" That horror 

filmmaker David Cronenberg makes his films there, 

and recently used it as the site for both New York and 

Interzone in his adaptation of Naked Lunch strikes me as 

grimly appropriate. 

Douglas Coupland in Generation X (see PW 28) 
describes it as "[giving] the efficient, ordered feel of the 
Yellow Pages sprung to life in three dimensions, 
peppered with trees and veined with cold water." 


. . . the overwhelming 
centurion dream of America 
drowned out our weak northern signal, dimmed 
the aurora borealis in a torrent of acid rain. 


Kafka spoke of his Prague as "that 
mother that has claws and won't let go." 
Toronto let me go; in maudlin moments, 
I might even say it drove me away — and 
for that, I can neither forgive nor forget. 

Toronto is in some ways a laboratory 
for the future city. It is one of North 
America's test marketing hubs — where 
such questionable commodities as cher- 
ry-flavored potato chips made their 
debut. Its indoor shopping mall envi- 
ronments (e.g., Yorkdale and the Eaton 
Centre) are more grandiose than Frank 
R. Paul's visions of the 25th century 
splashed across the covers of 20s pulp 

And though it boasts one of the most 
varied, cosmopolitan populations in the 
world — close to half its population was 
born outside the country — it has also 
been home to a very stodgy, mannered 
people. I like to visit them, love some of 
them to distraction — but still, I cannot 
live there. Alas. 


It seemed natural that a little boy of eight or 
ten should be a miserable, snotty-nosed crea- 
ture, his face almost permanently dirty, his 
hands chapped, his nails bitten, his handker- 
chief a sodden horror, his bottom frequently 
blue with bruises. 

— George Orwell 

An English teacher named Pierce 
once told me in prep school, "You're a 
stranger in a strange land." 

"Have you read the book?" I asked, 

He had not. I gave him a copy of 
Heinlein's famous hippie-prophetic 
novel that Christmas. We were friends, as 
far and as briefly as that went between 
pupil and master (yes, they called 
themselves that) at Upper Canada College. 

Pierce later banned my review of 
Flowers For Algernon, citing my fondness 
for science fiction as the pretext. To 
emphasize his disdain, he told me to 
prepare another one, and deducted 10% 
from my grade because it was instantly 
late. In revenge, I dwelled on the 
bloodier passages in Something of Value, 
Robert Ruark's pungent fifties bestseller 
about Mau Mau atrocities in Kenya. As 
I read aloud to the rapt class of castra- 
tion and other dismemberments — with 
veiled references to our own enforced 
impotence — I glimpsed Pierce's face 
turning green. 

(Unfortunately, this was a game I 
couldn't win. Next year he made me 
stand unprotected in a freezing Novem- 
ber rain, from which I nearly caught my 

In a related war of words, my French 
teacher said to me knowingly, "Oh, so 
you're one of those." He was referring to 
the fact that I was actually reading in the 
school library (as opposed to "study- 
ing"). His disdain deepened when he 
saw the book I held was The Hugo 
Winners, a collection of award-winning 
science fiction. Apparently my interest 
in "sci-fi" branded me a cultural barbar- 
ian. I knew in fact I was ahead of my 
time, and I could either wait. . .or, to 
find my stride, I could go to the source 
of the attractive signal from the south. 

As a Canadian — first generation 
mother; father an immigrant; more 
saxon than anglo— I was no happy 
camper. My early years were spent in 
the Siberian wastelands of Manitoba. If 
you've never heard of The Pas, don't 
worry; you won't be required to find it 
on a map. From those outer limits north 
of the 53rd, my family moved south to 
the narrow band straddling the border 
with the U.S., where 90 percent of all 

Canadians live. 

In 1970, we left Winnipeg for Toron- 
to, the city of my birth. It was there that 
I enrolled at Upper Canada College. It 
was supposed to groom the brood of 
business and the old aristocracy (what 
the stuffy 19th-century Canadians of 
British stock called "the Family Com- 
pact"). Most of my schooling occurred at 
private schools like UCC — world-class, 
presumably, for their emulation of 

One of our rallying cries was "The 
Blue Machine is Supreme!" As consum- 
mate snobs, we thought we were des- 
tined to control the financial world 
centred on Bay Street, the provincial 
government at Queen's Park, and ulti- 
mately, with all due modesty, accession 
to the halls of power in Ottawa. Beyond 
that was the terror incognita. 

It's easy to see where I developed my 
revulsion for authority: the macho in- 
ferno of boys' school, the petty elitism 
reflected in our "house" ties, the Scottish 
brogue of the endless stream of pipe- 
smoking masters dictating the brutal 
and capricious terms for our existence. 

My training included BASIC, which 
I pursued as an optional subject through 
ninth grade. As a student programmer, 
I toured more than one computer- 
whirring office in the mid- seventies, 
half- suspecting that this was my future. 
I narrowly missed (by a year) being 
forced to march in the "battalion," 
wearing ridiculous military uniforms, 
toting replica firearms, doing maneu- 
vers around the school grounds. Another 
decade would pass before computer 
science replaced Latin as a core subject. 

It would be an oversimplification to 
say that science fiction led to my leaving 
Canada. As a genre representing a pulp, 
sophisticated, fast-forward impulse, it 
and the overwhelming centurion dream 



of America drowned out our weak 
northern signal, dimmed the aurora 
borealis in a torrent of acid rain. SF 
provided the means (a social network 
that transcended borders) and certainly 
the mindset for a restless young cosmo- 
politan that were infinitely more appeal- 
ing than the pallid imperial baggage of 
Britain, whose most dour representa- 
tives seemed to end up teaching at 
Canadian private schools. 

I had to escape — as a budding writer, 
poet, stifled student of the world, eager 
to shuck the fetters of tradition, to 
unsquelch my lacquered tongue — I fol- 
lowed the siren call south. 


Nowhere is everywhere 

and first of all in the country 

where one happens to be. 

— Alfred J arry 

I have to admit I've been lucky. To 
get here — 

I didn't have to pay a coyote to sneak 
me in a dusty suffocating drive out of 
Tijuana in the trunk of a monoxidized 
automobile. I didn't cross the Rio 
Grande, blinking in a late night march 
through a desert of scorpions and in- 
frared sensors, watching for the strobe- 
lit rotors of la Migra. 

I did not have to "vote with my feet" 
to avoid having my skull added to a 
pyramid of eggheads in Indochina. 

I never had to sail in a listing, 
overcrowded boat, drinking seawater, 
braving pirates, turned away from one 
port to another, as if on a deathship, 
only to while away the indignity of years 
languishing in detainment centers, fear- 
ing repatriation, waiting to live. 

No linguistic barrier came between 
me and where I now stand, except for 
increasingly infrequent ribbing about 
my accent. With the passing of time, I 
am a less obvious stranger. 

Nobody ever dropped any bombs on 
a country I've lived in, except in weap- 
ons "tests." (Although periodically bits of 
space junk have rained flaming across 
the skies. And power plants have been 
known to overreact . . . ) 

Since I can be in only one place at a 
time, and am not content to remain a 
virtual traveler, I grapple daily with the 
problems of displacement. . .and en- 
gagement. I may not be able to vote in 
America, but I pay taxes. And until my 
wife fired me, I was counted on all the 
various forms she faithfully completed, 
a model minion of bureaucracy. (I 
shouldn't knock it; those very forms 
eased me through the pearly gates of 

immigration.) What more can I do to 
resist the abhorrent machinery when I 
have put myself in its maw by choosing 
to live here? 

James Joyce gives good tactical advice 
for survival in exile: 

/ will not serve that in which I no longer 
believe whether, it call itself my home, my 
fatherland or my church: and I will try to 
express myself in some mode of life or art as 
freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using 
for my defense the only arms I allow myself to 
use— silence, exile, and cunning. 

— Stephen Dedalus in A Portrait of the 
Artist as a Young Man 

Silence and cunning are limited if one 
does not find an effective balance in 
sociail action. Self-expression, if success- 
ful, or at least away from the margins, 
means collaboration. It may be with an 
audience of strangers, or one's peers; at 
best, it resonates and may disturb the 

In this City of exotic smiles, one's first 
question is often "Where are you from?" 
The Soviet epithet "roodess cosmo- 
politan" has always struck close to. . . 
well. . .home, wherever that is. Having 
lived in California since 1983, I've now 
been in San Francisco longer than any 
other place. I feel myself at last a San 

But however comfortable and inspir- 
ing it may be here, I'm always going to 
be dreaming about somewhere else; 
where I've been, where I come from, 
and ultimately, where I may be headed. 


Imagine having nothing on your hands 
but your destiny. 
You sit on the doorstep of your 
mother's womb and you kill time 
— or time kills you. 
You sit there chanting the doxology of 
things beyond your grasp. 
Forever outside. 
— Henry Miller, Black Spring 
People born after WWII have lived 
their lives in the shadow of the Bomb. 
We will all go together when we go, gibed 
Tom Lehrer in one of his satirical songs 
of the sixties. Now that the specter of 
communism has obligingly imploded 
across the once monolithic Eastern Bloc, 
history — rather than ending— has spun 
ever faster in increasingly uncertain 

June 1990 was a time of tumult. Boris 
Yeltsin was the newly elected Chairman 
of the Russian Federation parliament; 

as such, his openly sympathetic view 
towards Baltic independence was just 
one area where he was at odds with the 
Soviet center of power. 

I was traveling through Eastern Eu- 
rope as part of the Anti- Economy 
League mission to undermine blind 
faith in the false idol of the West and its 
cathode-radiant future. Walking down 
the Unter den Linden in East Berlin, I 
drifted into a "Unitopia" conference at 
the Alexander von Humboldt Universi- 
ty. In one of the classrooms students 
from the Baltic states showed videos 
documenting their struggle, provided 
narration and answered questions in 
English. They were an affable group of 
guys in their young twenties, active at 
the universities in Tallinn and Vilnius. 

One powerful image they brought 
with them was the story of the human 
chain across all the states from Lithua- 
nia through Latvia and Estonia which 
was organized to protest lingering Sovi- 
et domination in 1988. As an artistic 
and cultural statement on a massive 
scale, it went far beyond anything I've 
seen from the jaded emigre artist Chris- 
to, with his menacing, homicidal um- 
brellas, or Man Ray-run-amok visions 
of wrapping the Reichstag. 

As I traveled, news of further atomi- 
zation abounded: Yugoslav republics 
Slovenia and Croatia were advancing in 
their drive for independence. The only 
drift in the other direction, towards 
unity, was in reunifying Germany, and 
on the dim horizon in South Africa, as 
the Group Areas Act was reformed out 
of apartheid, laying the groundwork for 
the eventual dismantling of the "home- 
land" system of "separate development." 

In the meantime, my own native 
realm — Canada — was itself in the throes 
of new waves of separatism, as the 
constitutional fabric of confederation 
once again appeared fated to bitter 
dissolution. Once again, I felt the de- 
spair of a country that is paralyzed by 
chronic uncertainty, plagued by doubts 
and self-flagellation, two solitudes that 
have multiplied into a terminal alienation. 



In another country, with another name 

Maybe things are different. 

Maybe they're the same. 

— Brian Eno 

I can always tell the weekend riders: 
their hesitation at the turnstiles, their 
uncertainty over ticketing. Or some- 
times late at night, on the last lonely 
trains before the subway system shuts 
down, they're the ones too nervous to 
read or catch up on their sleep. They 
blink in amazement at every little thing. 
They never know till the last moment on 
which side of the train the doors will 
open. If there's something to see outside 
the window, they watch it whiz past in 
drop-jawed stupefaction, waiting for a 
moronic boom. 

I was a precocious commuter. I 
started going by subway to school before 
I was ten. Now I find I've spent the last 
twentysome years riding the rails; time 
to take stock. It has not always been the 
most pleasant experience, but it opened 
passages for me that in many ways seem 
to define my existence. 

Heinlein wrote "The Roads Must 
Roll." Asimov called them The Caves of 
Steel. Dostoevsky had his Notes From a 
Hole in the Floor (better known as Notes 
From Underground), in which he ventilat- 
ed the violent interiority of the subter- 
ranean dweller lashing out, excoriating 
the sickness of the status quo. 

Fortunately or not, most who ride do 
not show their loco side when on the 
train. The train is an engine of genes 
and experience in a brownian stream of 

It is a quality of indoor life; from 
sitting in one's garret, the outside fades 
in a haze of distant memories. I close 
my eyes to follow the slipstream of the 
everflowing street, from the Polk Street 
of Frank Norris to Edvard Munch's 
silhouette edging against the current of 
Sunday promenaders on Karl Johann- 
strasse. Joyce strolls along his river 
Liffey, Doblin's fetid Alexanderplatz 
assails the nostrils, while Nevsky Pros- 
pekt continues to beckon from the work 
of Pushkin to the futurist Biely. Saint 
Petersburg lives! Still, memory wanes. 

There are many heres now — here, here, 
and yes even there — however cycli- 
cal history or our memories of amnesia 
may be— in terms of the beat that echoes 
in my chest, maybe a muffled explosion, 
enough that I somehow continue to rise 
and think: maybe I won't pass this way 

How many thousands of miles have I 
circled the square on this hamster wheel 
of life? In the movie 2001, an astronaut 
bound for Jupiter jogs around an end- 
less track, a centrifuge, on an express- 
line beyond the infinite. 

The force that points his feet to the 
floor has another side: a centripetal pull, 
which governs the fate of nations. As we 
have seen recently, it doesn't take much, 
once the process is started, for these 
curious social constructs to fly apart. 

With the vanquishing of the Challenger 
shuttle, and the Soviet disUnion, 
manned spaceflight to any of our distant 
neighbors appears to be increasingly 
remote in the short term — ask that poor 
cosmonaut, still stranded in orbit, the 
country that launched him no longer in 
existence. Perhaps, as in Alphaville, we'll 
just have to drive our cars from city to 
city, pretending they're different star 
systems for that same (almost quaint) 
thrill of discovery. 

If we are to escape, it may only be 
from one room to another in the 
burning house we all live in. 

-D.S. Black 

A.K.A. Buz Blurr, one of your more prolific and 
poetic writers, he signs his self-portrait with a dif- 
ferent title every day. 



"Lucia Valenzuela: last seen in San Lizaro Station 

She answers to the name ofLucha 

Not in full possession of her mental capacities 

Her native language is Nahuatl" 

—note on bulletin board, Isabel la Catolica Metro stop 

Lucha lost in the Metro 
the rubber doors 
slide behind her 
like they are kissing. 
Why are all these eyes 
going for a ride 
down under the streets 
where the dead people 
are planted, she wonders. 
Will she see 
her mother? 


Fact; Our Metro 

is one of the few 

In the whole wide world 

that uses pneumatic tires 

designed with 
mathenfiatical precision. 

Lucha lost in the Metro 

searching out her dead mother 

between the fluorescent stations, 

they have given her 

these little dolls to sell, 

dead children with sewn smiles, 

they keep giggling 

under her blue rebozo, 

shhh, don't tell 

the conductor. 


Fact: Our Metro 
was constructed 
at a cost per user 
lower than any transportation system 
anywhere else 
under the world. 

Lucha lost in the Metro, 

she tries to count 

the stations between 

the darkness but 

there are more of them 

than all her fingers put together, 

her children are crying now, 

shhh they must not know — 

How much for this one 

the tall woman pulls her arm 

as if she were deaf and dumb, 

she is not her mother, 

she doesn't have to tell her 

how much her own children cost. 


Fact: The integrity 

of our users 

is the absolute bedrocl( 

of our high standard 

of technological innovation. 

Lucha lost in the Metro, 

she arrives at Observatorio, 

the tall woman tells her 

it is the end of the line, 

she must leave now, 

the conductor shoos her out, 

the dolls are sleeping at last, 

her mother is waiting for her, 

she sells sunflower seeds 

against the subway wall, 

Lucha squats down next to her, 

relieved that she has found 

her own at last, 

she cries hard 

into her mother's lap 

in Nahuatl. 


Fact: More people 

are found 

In our Metro 

eoch year 

because each year 

more and more people 

are lost. 

-John Ross 

Mexico City 3/88 



You ask me to say 

some love words in Polish 

1 hesitate 

afraid you might not like 

the hard h in the verb for love 

but you lie still and trusting 

as if expecting an unknown 


mqj mity 

mbj ztoty. 

mqj aniele 

my angel 

my own 

my golden one 

it's California 

January the unstoppable sun 

beats on the pillow 

I whisper the eternal 

banalities of love 

it's Los Angeles I take you 
to another country 
streets muted with snow 
early in the morning 
before footprints 

protected by a language 
you cannot enter 
I coo the extravagant 

moje serce 
my heart 

that's what 1 want you to be 
before falling asleep I repeat 
the brief 

syllable of your name 
like a heartbeat 


Text P? 

Overhead? 1 got all the head I can handle. 
Heading for a crash, no kidding. 

A real bagbiter when you're interrupt-driven. Thrashing. 
All information is assigned on a Need-To-Know basis. 
Of course it can be embarrassing, 

Some fourteen-year-old phone phreak whose handle is Headhook 
Flashing your credit history on screen. 
Some tidbit he found hacking the TRW mainframe. 
But whatcha gonna do, it's the Information Age: 
You can't incent them suckers to stonewall. 
We're not looking for excessive functionality here, 
Just a hook to start with, 
Something to inspire song. 
Or compel it. 
I think I'd like to non-concur with you there, sir — 

Ride Public Transit: 

Smell the armpits of your fellow man — 
Gnless you'd prefer that 1 went into emulation mode: 
Another yes-man. Another soft luck story. A man waits 
His way to the top and stays there. So true and so boring 
We won't empathize when his son Skipper gets skin cancer in Chapter 6. 
How many man-months in that oeuvre? Just asking. 
And as for you, love, 
How will we know if it's 
hi res until we've seen it all? 
We'll have to be each other's scratch monkeys 
CJntil we get some answers. 
As far as we know we're just liveware 
Beta testing for the real human race 
Rumored to be released real soon now. 

— David Fox 

it's hard 

giving you up 

the room 

snowy with light 

1 whisper inoje serce 

and you 

whisper back 

it sounds wonderful 


— loanna-Veronika 


There is too much to leave: 

The blood of growing up 

The calling of the ancestors 

The longing for your hardened tones 

The feel of cinnamon loam 

But the sea whispers 

Banjos keep dancing 

And the heart keeps forming words 

Trapped by the hardened lips. 

The heart, 

Cloaked in onionpeels of steel 

Caught in the inertia of ideologies 

Between swollen bellies smiling for the camera 

And children disappearing into the rescue of graves, 

Keeps waiting for the delicate kiss 

To unveil the sorrow of doves imprisoned there. 

— Farouk Asvat 


19 MEN 

19 men running in the moonlight -^ 

19 men waiting in a railroad yard | 

1 9 men heard a coyote's howl 

19 men sneaking in a freight yard 

19 men dreaming of a big dream 

19 men going for a hard ride 

19 men trying to get a tough job 

19 men blurring an illegal border 

19 men with nothing to lose 

19 men stepped down into an aluminum Missouri Pacific boxcar 

and the doors were sealed (Where's the light in this rolling 

coffin? Let's strike a match, let's see your faces— There's 

Manuel & Jorge & his compadre Isidro from Zacatecas, que no? 

& Juan & Jose y los cuatitos Miguel & Mateo, there's Adrian & 

Martin, Tomas, Pablo, and that other Pablo, too, & Joaquin, 

Ramon, Arturo, Ernesto el poeta, and Mario who said this was 

his last time, and Miguel Rodriguez) 

19 men headed for Dachau 

19 men with a ticket to Auschwitz 

19 men riding through El Paso 

19 men in the West Texas heat 

19 men without air to breathe 

19 men sealed in a death car 

19 men and they can't go far 

19 men on the road of no return 

19 men got burned 

19 men sealed alive in an aluminum nightmare 

crazy with heat convulsions / tearing their hair out in 

asphyxiations / blood & skin & hair smeared on the walls of the 

refrigerated freight car 

19 men only one survived 

19 men 

— Alejandro Murguia 


Seven a.m., Ensenada, 
Baja California, 
Hotel Las Palmas 

What saddens me today 
isn't that the ozone 
disappears inch by inch 
like cards up a gambler's sleeve 
nor that poisons fill the earth 
and spill boiling into the sea 
nor famines nor wars that ravage 

But today there was a middle-aged 

Mexican campesino who passed 

by in the parking lot 

and neither he nor 1 

had the courage to look the other 

in the eye and say "good morning.' 

—Clifton Ross 

If you know any whereabouts or who's abouts of 

Bozo Texino, please write: 

Clickety Claxton, Box 77325, SF CA 94107 



more than a pathetic imitation of a gay bar, a 
fractured parody of the demimonde. The outdated 
disco music and the de rigueur mirrored ball that spun 
wearily over the dance floor tried but failed to 
create an atmosphere of big city sophistication in 
that heart of southern, rural darkness. To others, 
however. Main Street was a glittering Oz, a fabled 
land of dreams come true, a taste of paradise. 

The only gay bar for a radius of a hundred miles, 
it was the far flung outpost of Queer culture. Back 
home in Chicago, 350 miles north of the Ozarks, 
gay bars — there were over a hundred in the 
city — specialized and had highly specific clienteles: 
leather bars, preppy bars (aka "S & M" or "Stand 
and Model" bars), "Gentlemen's" bars (i.e., for rich 
old daddies and young hustlers), cruise bars, etc. 
Not so in Carbondale, where it was one size fits all. 
Main Street hosted men and women, students from 
the University and locals, drag queens and frat 
boys, hicks and Internationals. 

Khan Chang could usually be found on what I 
sometimes called the Flight Deck, because it was so 
often host to the Royal Malaysian Air Force. It was 
a raised wooden platform to the right of the bar; 
opposite it was another platform containing the 
pool table. (This was, obviously, the center of 
lesbian activity in the bar and was known as the 
"Dyke Deck.") It was only natural that Southern 
Illinois University, with its well-developed outreach 
to Moslem Asia and its world-class aviation and 
aviatronics departments, should train the entire 
Royal Malaysian Air Force. What was less natu- 
ral—or at least less obvious — was that so many of 
the RMAF cadre should be queer. 

The oligarchies of Moslem Asia are not famous 
for their open-mindedness in general, 
let alone on 


matters of sexuality. Indeed, part of the reason they 
sent their sons (daughters were kept at home) to 
bucolic Carbondale was its (relative) remoteness 
from corrupt, decadent, irreligious Western cul- 
ture. On the one hand they needed the intellectuail 
products of that dangerously secular civilization; on 
the other, they feared their offspring would be 
seduced by its siren call. This fear was well- 
founded, and they took what measures they could 
to contain this threat. 

Khan's family, like most others, had signed a 
contract with the Malaysian government to cover 
the cost of his degree. Big Brother would pay for the 
bulk of Khan's education as a mechanical engineer, 
tuition and some living expenses (generously 
supplemented by his obscenely wealthy family); in 
return, KJian would serve the government at the 
ratio of four years of work for each year of school. 
Thus, the average four year degree would commit 
him to 16 years of government service. 

Alas, Khan had discovered: a) that he was queer; 
b) that he hated mechanical engineering, Islam, 
Malaysia, and his family (not necessarily in that 
order); and c) that his True Calling was to move to 
New York City and become a Famous Fashion 
Designer. These were not unrelated discoveries, 
but the bottom line was that if he welshed on the 
deal his parents had cut they would be stuck with 
the tab for his years at SIU and he would be persona 
non grata with his family and the Malaysian 
Government, both orthodox Moslem outfits with 
impressive grudge-holding skills. 

For Khan this was such a good deal 
that he never 


After only 

four years of Exile ... I would 

metamorphose into a full-fledged, well-paid 

Professional ... I would be a Guppy at last! 


looked back. "There's no 'gay life' in 
Malaysia," he explained to me. "Some 
dirty old men hanging out in parks. 
Yuck!" It wasn't just gay sex he wanted 
(though he wanted plenty of that, from 
all reports), it was a "Lifestyle." 

"In Malaysia you have to have a 
family, a wife and kids. Your life is 
supposed to center around them. Family 
is everything." He shrugged. To him, 
family was nothing, now, not compared 
to the glamor of Main Street and the 
rumored grandness of fabled New York. 
But he was atypical in that regard. Most 
of his gay Malaysian friends were too 
well bound up with moral and financial 
obligations, and by family ties, to con- 
sider defecting. They were content with 
camping it up on Main Street for a few 
years, and then holding out for occa- 
sional business trips to the U.S. and its 
gay scene. 

The Lure of the West 

Carbondale's gay community was 
clearly a foreign element, an obvious 
import of urban perversity into the 
Heartland (as the local TV stations like 
to call it). It was grudgingly tolerated as an 
unpleasant but unavoidable byproduct 
of the University, like toxic waste from a 
job-producing heavy industry. 

What the locals disliked most about 
this queer colonial enclave was its 
remarkable ability to encourage defec- 
tion and conversion, no less from 
among the local, conservative Christian 
population than from the conservative 
Moslem Asian temporary residents. 
These converts usually soon departed 
C-dale for one of the Gay Urban 
Meccas (which by regional standards 
included Memphis and St. Louis, 
southern backwaters in my jaded opin- 
ion). Their families far preferred it that 
way; nothing could be more humiliating 
that an openly gay relative lacking the 
shame to either hide or flee. 

The stridently militant, anti-closet 
proselytizing, nationalist attitude of big 
city Queers, which flavored the campus 
gay group, was considered derangedly 
political by the indigenous Queers who 
dominated Main Street and tended 
more towards a pre- Stonewall, Southern 
drag-queen culture. There was a femi- 
nist-separatist community, held over 
from the seventies, which avoided the 
campus group as sexist and the bar as 
promoting addiction. A local Metropol- 
itan Community Church (a national 
gay ministry) advocated a fusion of 
fundamentalism and homosexuality — a 
fusion vociferously denounced from 

both sides — but, naturally, denounced 
the bar as sinful, the campus group as 
irreligious, and the separatists as pa- 

The Pit was an example of the crazy 
contradictions governing the very limit- 
ed queer and queer-safe space in South- 
ern Illinois. It was a pit mine a dozen 
miles north of the campus, which had 
been abandoned when it struck a spring 
and flooded with water. Now it was the 
best swimming hole of the region, and 
all on private land owned by Nick, a 
prosperous fireworks salesman. Nick 
liked having nekkid women hanging 
around at his swimmin' hole, and gave 
highly coveted keys to selected gate- 
keepers of the local lesbian community. 
On a hot summer weekend the secluded 
park would overflow with dozens of 
nude lesbians, a few of their fag friends, 
and Nick himself, naked except for a big 
.38 strapped to his waist. 

Nick was a blatant sexist, and often 
ran around taking pictures of the wom- 
en's bare tits and asses. They didn't 
chastise him for objectifying them; they 
howled with glee and demanded copies. 
Besides, it was his pool and one of the 
few safe places for queers to gather. The 
bar was a target for fag-bashers, the 
local rest-stop cruisy area the prey of 
local cops, thugs, and occasional mur- 
derers (including a husband-and-wife 
team that chainsawed their victim into 
pieces, and only got caught because they 
used his credit cards at a local furniture 
store). If you wanted to be picky about 
the Political Correctness of your host, 
you'd be better off returning to your 
Gay Urban Mecca. 

How I Got There 

I wanted nothing more than to return 
to Civilization, but like Khan Chang 
and most other students I'd accepted 
Exile as the price of an affordable 
education. It was my determination to 
avoid working for a living that led me, 
naturally enough, to consider a career in 
academics, and ultimately to C-dale. I'd 
finished up my long-neglected bachelor's 
degree and finagled a slot in SILTs 
graduate program in Counseling Psy- 
chology. I gleefully gave short notice to 
my boss (see "Progressive Pretensions," 
PW 26), tucked the "Dr. K. Wabbit, 
Ph.D" plaque (a going away gift from 
my co-workers) under my arm, and set 
off for the South. 

It was no small accomplishment to be 
accepted for such a cushy spot at all, 
and I was fully aware of how marginal a 
candidate I was for it, what with my 

long and checkered undergraduate ca- 
reer. I had the lowest grade point 
average of anyone ever accepted in the 
program, squeaking in despite my orig- 
inal ranking as "eighth alternate." In 
return for working 20 hours a week, at 
an hourly rate comparable to what I'd 
generally earned in the Real World, I 
got a tuition waiver (otherwise $4K per 
year), and training as both an academic j 
and a shrink. Such a deal! I 

There was bound to be an "Ivory 
Tower" effect, I figured, to offset the 
otherwise bucolic nature of the region. 
After only four years of Exile, living 
cheap in the sultry south, I would 
metamorphose into a full-fledged, well- 
paid Professional doing Meaningful 
Work. I would be a Guppy (Gay Urban 
Professional) at last! 

It didn't work out quite that way. But 
I still say school beats working for a 
living, nine times out often. ■ 

Social Geography 1 

Everyone was an outcast in Carbon- 
dale; it was a place of universal exile. 
The majority of its population were 
aliens, isolated in a strange land, and 
even the natives seemed dislocated by 
the culturad-imperialist intrusion of The 
University. For most of us the Ivory 
Tower was in fact a tiny ghetto sur- 
rounded by a vast and hostile wilderness 
(and for most of the rest it was an 
invading, colonial enclave). 

The student body was an interesting 
mix. SIU was at the bottom of the state's 
educational hierarchy. All the really 
top-notch students (who couldn't afford 
private schools, that is) went to the 
world-famous University of Illinois at 
Champaign-Urbana (or Shampoo-Ba- 
nana, as we called it). Middle class 
whites with less obvious academic talent 
and the better-off blacks went to North- 
ern Illinois University at DeKalb, just a 
couple hours outside the city; the frat 
boys could drive in for the weekends. 
Distant C-dale, 350 miles South of 
Chicago, got the leftovers; party ani- 
mals (we had an outdated rep as a 
"party-hearty" school held over from the 
'60s), poor blacks from Chicago's South 
Side and from East St. Louis, where 
there was a branch campus, and assort- 
ed semi-rural low-brow Aggies and 
Techies from mid-state. 

Like so many American schools, SIU 
■got its big boost after World War II, 
when any degree-granting institution 
could expand ten-fold on the glut of 
veteran's benefited students. Right after 
that came the "Sputnik" scare of the '50s, 


the fear that the Russkies were going to 
win the "race for the stars" because they 
got their rockets off the ground before 
we did (having snagged the better 
German rocket scientists, while we got 
Werner von Braun). Huge bucks were 
poured into the education system to 
offset this (imaginary) deficit; besides, 
they figured — correctly — it'll keep kids 
off the streets and out of the job market. 

Then there were the upheavals of the 
'60s, when many public schools adopted 
virtual open admissions standards. The 
tab, in those days not very steep, would 
be picked up by generous Federal 
financial aid, rounded out with low- 
interest, government guaranteed loans. 

This lovely gravy train, despite 35 
years of momentum, was abruptly de- 
railed with the advent of the Reagan- 
Bush regime. State schools all over the 
country felt the crunch, but SIU had 
hedged its bets cleverly. Led by a 
visionary president, the school had 
created and promoted special outreach 
programs to both foreign (officiailly 
"Internationad") students and to disabled 

Both groups paid premium tuition, 
about four times the standard for resi- 
dents of Illinois. They flooded speciad 
programs, and required all sorts of 
expert services and tutoring, for which 
they paid top dollar (incidently provid- 
ing employment — usually subsidized by 
Federal money — for other students). 
They were also more vulnerable to 
gouging by the locals than ordinary 
students, so the private sector got its 
share of the goodies. Unlike state resi- 
dents, who stayed away from school in 
bad times, these lucrative constituencies 
held stable and even increased. C-dale's 
well-developed programs in agriculture 
and technology, sneered at by the more 
academically inclined upstate schools, 
were quite attractive to students from 
Third World countries. 

The initial outlay wasn't too bad. The 
entire campus had to be made handi- 
capped accessible, but there were lots of 
federal dollars for stuff like that, and it's 
great PR. We had a mobile wheelchair 
repair unit that could get anywhere on 
campus in 15 minutes. Catering to 
foreign students was even easier. The 
registrar developed a muscular and 
experienced visa department that spe- 
cialized in pushing through the passport 
paperwork. SIU was often the only, or 
at least the easiest, place for foreign 
students to study in the U.S. 

When I went there, C-dade had the 
second largest number of "international" 


SHEEP, n. A large, abysmally stupid quadruped bearing a striking 
resemblance to another common animal, the average American voter. 

students of any campus in the country. 
They were mostly from the less devel- 
oped countries, but particularly from 
Moslem Asia, e.g., Malaysia, Brunei, 
Singapore and Indonesia. There were 
also lots of students from Africa. For 
them the only other choice, most of the 
time, was China, where African stu- 
dents live fifteen to a room in hovels 
without plumbing — and end up with 
cheesy degrees in obsolete technology. 
Attending SIU was the chance of a 
lifetime for them, an interesting contrast 
to the average lackadaisical frat boys, 
who drifted on a haze of beer for four 
years at SIU for lack of anything better 
to do. 

The various exile communities lived 
peaceably side by side, mostly ignoring 
each other entirely. We didn't come 
there to socialize, after all, but rather in 
pursuit of some higher cause: Truth, or 
a lucrative career, or training in how to 
transform the world, or a few years of 
subsidized leisure away from nagging 
parents, or adl of the above. 

After four years my term expired and 
classwork, thesis, and major exams 
completed, I departed to do my year- 
long, paid clinical internship at the 
University of California at Irvine in 
Orange County. This is another tale of 
toil and Exile by itself. If I ever actually 
bother to do my dissertation — which is 
what I should be doing instead of writing 
subversive trash like this — I will offi- 
cially be Dr. K. Wabbit, Ph.D. 

Was it worth it, that long, painful and 
costly exile? Most of my cohorts feel so 
now, as they climb their way up out of 
the ranks of the junior faculty at various 

minor midwestern state schools. Rapid 
advancement depends largely upon a 
willingness to accept further exile in the 
form of "good" positions at out-of-the- 
way institutions. I myself turned down a 
position in the Counseling Center at 
Northern Illinois University at DeKalb, 
because by that time I'd been diagnosed 
with AIDS and felt myself to be exiled to 
San Francisco by virtue of mediccd 
necessity. I can't think of any place I'd 
rather be exiled to, and anyway, my 
diagnosis rapidly eroded my lingering 
urge to merge with the mainstream via a 
"good" job. 

The premise of graduate work is that 
it's a good deal in the long run, albeit 
merciless exploitation in the beginning. 
I found it a tolerable deal in the short 
run, by virtue of my superior skills at 
shirking, coasting, and ad-libbing, but 
clearly most others did not. They en- 
dured exile plus unreasonable work 
loads because it was one of very few 
paths upward. 

As to how Khan ended up, I don't 
know, not having much information on 
the New York fashion design scene. I'll 
bet he's much happier than he would be 
back home working for the government, 
and it was obvious that his prospects as a 
Designer were far brighter than any he'd 
had as a mechanical engineer. Once 
again the lure of decadent Western 
culture and the unrestrained freedom of 
the Capitalist Market triumphed over 
traditional values and a Planned Econo- 
my. For Khan, as for me now, what 
started as Exile ended as finding Home. 

— Kwazee Wabbit 




okill sharing is the way of the future. 
This is probably not what Kropotkin 
envisioned when he wrote Mutual Aid, 
but I'm going to go ahead and share 
with you some of what I've learned on 
the job. I work as a temp, a word 
processor, a secretary, part of what the 
communists call the "paper proletariat," 
doing what this anarcha- feminist prefers 
to call "paperslutting." 

My agency (read: pimp) arranges the 
trick, and I meet the client. I dress and 
act appropriately, and I do whatever 
they tell me for the time specified. (If 
they are overly cruel, my agency/pimp 
will ostensibly protect me. The one time 
I did report a client for cruelty I found 
the agency very sympathetic, but they 
haven't gotten me a single assignment 
since then.) 

For as long as I work the job, I get 
approximately 40% of what the client pays 
me hourly. The state gets something like 
20%, and the agency takes the rest. On 
the training video, they showed me a pie 
chart detailing what they do with my 
earnings. According to the chart, my 
earnings go to pay their "rent, office 
supplies, salaries, profits, and other 
costs." Funny the way they order their 
words to make profit sound like an 
unavoidable expense. 

So here's some advice from the vast 
stores of my desperate creativity. If 
work is a prison of measured time, it is 
only logical to begin with time. What do 
you do with time at work (other than 
watch it)? WASTE IT! I'm sure you can 
figure out how to do this on your own. 

but here are some of my favorite ways. 

Be 5 minutes late for work. Get lost 
on your way there the first day (even if 
you don't, they can't expect you to find 
your way around their zoo very easily, 
at any rate). Get coffee or tea or water. 
One trick is to get half- cups, on the 
ostensible basis that you like it very hot; 
that doubles your coffee-getting time. 
Ask for a small tour of the worksite, if 
you think your genuine interest in their 
operations could be plausible. Write 
down everything they tell you. Ask 
several people to recommend places for 
lunch. Be 5 minutes late getting back 
from lunch. 

Whenever possible, don't use your 
best judgement. Wait until someone's 
off the phone to ask them how they want 
their letter typed if you have a question. 
If you're typing it in the computer, sure 
you could always change it later, but my 
motto on the job for the hourly wage is, 
"Why waste work when you can waste 

The most famous way to waste time at 
work is an old radical union trick, from 
the military too. It's referred to as 
working by the book. Literally, the rule 
book. They write the damn things, but 
if work actually were done by all the 
regulations, nothing would get done. 
Working by the book means doing 
exactly what procedure dictates and 
more but never less, no short-cuts, no 
rushing, check everything twice, get 
approval at every step, cut no corners, 
and, whatever you do, don't use your 
intelligence to streamline their process- 

At work, people break rules for two 

reasons: to benefit the goals of the 
corporation (for example, evading EPA 
regulations) or to work against the goals 
of the corporation. Which side are you 1 
on, after all?!? ■ 

Go to the bathroom a lot. (One 
temping friend tells me he takes small 
naps on the toilet, waking up when 
someone opens the door. I'm impressed 
but not that adept.) While you're in the 
bathroom, try out new hairdos. Wash 
your face. Pull up your stockings (as the 
case may be). Masturbate. Plan your 
evening. Do graffiti if it's possible not to 
have it linked to you. 

Leave work five minutes early. 

This list is by no means exhaustive. 
Be creative. Your creativity in this 
respect is only rivaled by the creativity 
of those who devise the thousands of 
stupid regulations set up to keep you 
passive in their workplace. Lest you feel 
frustrated with this approach — it may 
seem petty — bear in mind (and they 
have told me so in so many words) that 
your time is their money. 

Be careful, but always keep alert for 
opportunities. You'd be surprised at 
how many apartments can be furnished 
with the seldom-missed surplus of the 
corporate world. If you have particular 
skills, you may be able to do large-scale 
damage to office machines that will be 
interpreted as due to breakdown rather 
than sabotage. 

Maybe I've read too much Foucault, 
but in any case, I think the most damage 
you can do in an office setting is 
organizational. The whole idea of bu- I 
reaucracy (rule by desks or offices) is to 
centralize information, to have at the 
fingertips of those who make decisions 
all the available facts about those they 
control, affect, observe, monitor, select, 
disregard, ignore, and forget, and about 
those by whom they are affected and 
limited and on whom they depend. 

Thus they rely on computers, on 
elaborate filing systems, on steep but 
extensive hierarchies, and on principles 
of secrecy and mystification. Organiza- 
tion and structure are the backbone of 
the internal aspect of the corporation 
which I think is most interesting to the 
infiltrator: Bureaucracy. 

Misfiling even a few documents can 
do a lot of damage. On the IBM, you 
can name files inscrutably and fail to 
label the floppies, so when you're gone 


they can't really derive the name of the 
file from the subject of the document. 
On the Mac, files can be stored in 
inappropriate folders and can likewise 
be labeled unintelligibly. When you 
leave, don't explain what you've done 
with things unless you have to. 

Address labels can be riddled with 
misspellings and typos (no one has to 
approve them before they go out). You 
can answer the phone in a confusing 
way. Just do it the way you learned 
how; pick it up and say hello. Almost 
without fail, the person calling will think 
they have a wrong number. 

I think it's good to do these things 
even when they have only a marginal 
effect in countering and undermining 
the evil and power of these companies 
because it keeps you critical. This kind 
of dual consciousness at work prevents 
slippage toward the conservative ca- 
reerism that is what is so insidious about 
office work. 

Without a critical consciousness at 
work, it's too easy to mingle your ego 
gratification with their corporate goals. 
They have it set up that way. You do a 
good job for them, and they pat you on 
your soft little head. Sabotage is resis- 
tance. And resistance is sabotage be- 
cause their work order depends on the 
association of your personal fulfillment 
with their processes. When you resist, 
you fuck that up. 

So go ahead, fuck shit up. I did. I do. 

I am. And you're reading it. It's fun, but 
it's not just a game, not just heroically 
pitting your mind against the enemy. 

Sometimes way up on the 57th floor 
of their corporate headquarters, you 
find a wide-open window, and if you 
stick your head out, you might just see 
the sky. And if it makes you feel deadened 
or sick or frustrated or lonely or crazy or 
helpless or angry or just sad, remember, 
it doesn't have to be like this at all. 

- by Stella 


A San Francisco judge recently 
overturned the controversial VDT ordi- 
nance after it had been in effect for only 
three weeks. According to Michael Ru- 
bin, attorney for Service Employees 
International Union (SEIU — which 
helped draft the law): "Judge Lucy 
McCabe said CAL-OSHA expressly 
pre-empted San Francisco's VDT ordi- 
nance, and that no other entity has the 
power to regulate the workplace. She 
relied on language of the CAL-OSHA 
Act for her decision." The ruling essen- 
tially bans occupational legislation at the 
municipal level. 

Supporters of the ordinance intend to 
appeal quickly, but expect that it will be 
at least another year before the issue is 

"I'm confident it will be back in effect, 
unless we're able to get state legislation 

first," said Rubin. "It's part of a coordi- 
nated effort involving collective bar- 
gaining and attempts to pass statewide 

The lawsuit overturning the ordi- 
nance was secretly subsidized by IBM, 
and looks to have been a good invest- 
ment for the giant computer company. 
IBM, along with several other compa- 
nies, financed two tiny plaintiffs in their 
quest to outlaw the few concessions 
granted VDT workers. Neither the 
plaintiffs nor IBM would name other 
corporate backers, but did confirm their 

An IBM spokesman said that the 
company's backing does not mean it is 
opposing SFs law. "What we're inter- 
ested in is having federal standards 
instead of local ones," he said, revealing 
a typical strategy of multinationals. In 
another recent case, not directly related 
to this one but similar in that it relies on 
an argument that a higher jurisdiction 
takes precedence over local efforts to 
regulate public policy, an arbitration 
panel of GATT (the General Agreement 
on Tariffs and Trade) ruled that U.S. 
attempts to require dolphin- safe tuna 
fishing violated international free trade 
agreements. SF's VDT ordinance would 
have required, over the next four years, 
that employers in SF provide VDT 
workers with adjustable chairs, desks 
and computers in order to reduce the 
incidence of repetitive strain injuries, 


and the installation of non-glare lighting 
to avoid vision problems. However, 
measures to reduce potential health 
injuries from the electromagnetic fields 
emanating from computers were thrown 
out in the negotiating process. 

In exchange for accepting such a 
negotiating process, which included 
representatives of the Chamber of 
Commerce, the City and SEIU, the 
ordinance was supposed to be lawsuit- 

"We always knew there was a possi- 
bility that a renegade employer group 
might challenge it, but we were disap- 
pointed and upset that litigation was 
conducted in such a secretive manner," 
said Rubin of SEIU. "I don't know why 
corporations are hiding behind the 
screen of two tiny companies set up as a 
front." While the amount IBM spends 
on lawyers' fees pales next to the 
company's $2.8 billion loss last year, 
siding with the forces of regression 
shows the company has little acumen for 
the current technology industry. VDT 
industry watchers, such as Louis Slesin, 
editor of the New York-based VDT 
News, say they find IBM's position 
baffling when IBM could easily be 
making its products more ergonomically 
safe for users and marketing its low 
electromagnetic emission VDTs — 
resulting in more sales. 

Although this is the first major lawsuit 
over a protective ordinance, at least 19 
lawsuits representing hundreds of mil- 
lions of dollars have been filed against 
computer companies over repetitive 
strain injuries in the past few years, 
according to Slesin. Apparently, IBM 
and others fail to see the logic in 
supporting protective legislation so 
workers don't get hurt and sue the hell 
out of them in the future. 

"One wonders why IBM is going 
against what must be the recommenda- 
tions of their own ergonomists," said 

Slesin and others supporting protec- 
tive legislation make the economic ar- 
gument that Processed World readers love 
to hate: a protected VDT worker is a 
productive VDT worker. 

"Major employers know there's no 
doubt that they get an investment in 
ergonomic equipment back in produc- 
tivity gains," Slesin said. 

Employees, on the other hand, are 
mostly interested in avoiding debilitat- 
ing and disabling injuries. Some VDT 
workers have taken the stormy and 
faltering path of the protective legisla- 

tion as a sign of things to come. "First 
they say the city can't regulate it; then 
they'll say the state can't regulate it, and 
we'll have to wait for the Fed to regulate 
it— and look at their record on worker 
protection," said a disgruntled office 
worker. "Maybe we need some direct 
action. A substandard VDT, once dis- 
abled, can't be reinstated by a mere 


Ecotech, a three-day conference re- 
cently held in Monterey was intended as 
a coming out party for "corporate envi- 
ronmentalism." The organizers were 
somewhat disappointed, as only about 
20% of the attendees — including Chev- 
ron, PG&E, Apple, Arthur D. Little 
and Esprit — were corporados, and 
blamed the low turnout on the "reces- 
sion." Others weren't so sure. Jay Har- 
ris, the publisher of Mother Jones, noted 
that General Dynamics was nowhere to 
be found. 

In the other corner were a flock of the 
usual suspects — Amory Lovins, nerd 
and techno-pragmatist par excellence, 
Stewart Brand, post-political green ex- 
traordinaire, Fritjof 'I am a philoso- 
pher" Capra, Denis "Earth Day" Hayes, 
Chellis "Technology is the problem" 
Glendinning and a variety of other 
green luminaries of local and national 
fame. The middle ground was held by a 
melange of environment£il consultants 
and wannabes, politicians, green-fund 
managers, entrepreneurs, middle- 
managers, journalists and multi-media 

artists. It was a strange brew. Knocking 
around in it, I learned that even though 
"most of these corporations are green the 
way an apple is green, on the outside 
where you can see it," in the silver words 
of Joel Hirshhorn, author of Prosperity 
Without Pollution, there was something 
going on here that could not be reduced 
to the public- relations bullshit recently 
named greenwashing. 

Corporate environmentalism is— just 
maybe— a real social movement. Ifs 
small, and far less important than its 
adherents believe. The bulk of them are 
painfully naive, and they spend hours 
bemoaning their lack of access to the 
"guys at the top" and the "real decision 
makers." But for all that, there they 
are — sincere, pragmatic and more than 
a little worried. They believe, as a 
woman from PG&E put it at one of the 
late-night "break out" sessions, that "the 
corporations have the talent, the re- 
sources, the R&D and the ability to 
make a difference," and that if they can't 
be brought "on board" there's no hope of 
reversing the environmental crisis in 

On day two a nice lady from Hall- 
mark Cards (a corporate feminist, by 
the way) took the stage to assure us that 
even in Hallmark there were a few 
sincere and determined people working 
hard to make a difference. 

Again and again, the message came 
down from the stage. Peter Schwartz, 
bigtime corporate consultant and author 
of The Art of the Long View, summed it up 
well when he said that "corporate envi- 
ronmentalism can be a successful part- 
nership between private initiative and 
social good" and that greens who are 
fixated on "blocking" corporations and 
pushing their "kneejerk views" of envi- 
ronmental problems do more harm than 
good by "delegitimating environmental 
regulation over time." Corporate envi- 
ronmentalism, on the other hand, "pro- 
vides multiple payoffs" because "efficient 
and high-quality products reduce cost 
and environmental impact" and envi- 
ronmental regulation forces companies 
to take the long view. 

A few hours later I cornered Schwartz 
by the buffet and asked him why, if 
environmentalism and efficiency and 
profitability all go hand in hand, the 
world was going to hell? He smiled, 
chewed and pronounced — "incompe- 
tence. It scares the hell out of me." 

It scares the hell out of me too, but 
then again, so does competence. 

— Tom Athanasiou 


cerpts from the new book SABOTAGE IN THE 
Sprouse with Lydia Ely, ISBN 0-9627091-3-1, $12.00 
postpaid from Pressure Drop Press, P.O. Box 460954 
San Francisco 94146). Processed World gained a 
certain notoriety in the early 1980s with a number of 
articles and letters on the subject of sabotage. The 
excerpts presented here excellently illustrate the sometimes 
contradictory nature of sabotage. It's the most available 
recourse for disgruntled or enraged wage-slaves to exact 
some revenge on their workplace and/or bosses. It is a 
vital weapon in the class struggle. But it is a difficult 
weapon to use constructively, that is, as an individual act 
of revolt it is often not only isolated, but by bringing down 
the authorities it makes worklife for those who remain 
even more controlled and atomized. On the other hand, 
acts of sabotage committed with the complicity of 
coworkers can strengthen solidarity, unnerve authorities, 

and lead to greater space and power for the workers. A nd 
of course the well-placed individual act, even without the 
complicity of others can produce interesting results, too. It 
all depends. The following stories offer examples from the 
mundane to the dramatic, individual to collective, and 
provide much food for thought. We are also excerpting 
editor Martin Sprouse's introduction. 

Processed World would love to have your sabotage 
stories, but especially your reflections on how sabotage 
helps or hurts efforts to make worklife better, different, or 
at least more bearable. This discussion has already gone 
on for more than a century. Sabotage and how we 
understand it remains a vital component of any work- 
based movement for social liberation. 

— Chris Carlsson 

The basic idea behind this book [is] to document reactions to the 
day-to-day frustrations and conflicts of earning a living in 
America. Anyone who has worked knows that dissatisfaction is a 
part of a great number of American jobs. 

Because I wanted the book to include a wide range of anecdotes — 
encompassing different types of sabotage, people and jobs — / chose to 
define "sabotage" loosely, as anything that you do at work that 
you're not supposed to do. I was just as intrigued by the 
straight- laced data processor who always added extra hours to her time 
card, or the graphic designer who regularly came down to the mailroom 
and talked when he should have been behind his desk. Then there was the 
quiet, middle-aged accountant who had me send his Christmas gifts at 
company expense. Did he do it because he knew he could get away with 
it, or because he felt the company owed him something? 

These aren't the kinds of people that come to mind when sabotage is 
mentioned, but these are the people who were yelled at when the boss was 
in a bad mood. Considered expendable by the managers, they were the 
first to have their salaries cut. I wanted to listen to their stories, find out 
where they drew their personal line of tolerance, and hear how they 
defined sabotage . . . 

The people I interviewed have backgrounds as varied as their stories. 
Some could barely survive, living paycheck to paycheck; others made 
$60, 000 a year. Their ages range from twelve to sixty-five. Their 
stories are set all over America, from Los Angeles to remote Alaskan 
coastal towns, from Wall Street to the North Dakota wheat fields . . . 
Each person's choice of sabotage and reasons for using it are as much a 
reflection of their character as of their jobs. The motives behind the acts 
cover the spectrum between altruism and revenge. . . As long as people 
feel cheated, bored, harassed, endangered, or betrayed at work, sabotage 
will be used as a direct method of achieving job satisfaction — the kind 
that never has to get the bosses' approval. 

—Martin Sprouse, Feb. 1992 



I worked on their payroll program, 
interfacing a clumsy old in-house sys- 
tem. It was one of the worst designed 
systems that I had ever seen. It was 
using a wasteful amount of computer 
time and had a very bad user interface. 
It made me ashamed to be a program- 
mer. I thought, "Look at this piece of 
shit." It insulted me that I was supposed 
to make the system work better, but I 
wasn't allowed to make any fundamen- 
tal changes. I could only patch things 

Because I was restricted in the 
amount of work I was allowed to do, I 
was having a lot of problems imple- 
menting the system. It was a real pain in 
the ass. Bank of America started being 
pushy because I wasn't getting the work 
done as fast as they wanted me to. When 
the higher-ups in the bank wanted to 
know what was going on, the computer 
supervisors said I was incapable of 
doing the job. They put all of the blame 
on me because they didn't want the 
bosses to know how shitty their comput- 
er system really was. They made me 
look really bad, then went a step further 
and stopped paying me. I got so pissed 
off at them that I planted a logic bomb 
in the system, a kind of electronic "Fuck 

I had all the passwords that I needed 
to do it just right. I got into the payroll 
program and wrote a new program that 
would delete it. The next time the 
payroll program started running, it 
slowly started disappearing. Once it 
started failing, all the other programs 
started deleting themselves. The logic 
bomb had a chain reaction effect. It 
started out small, but then all of a 
sudden the entire system was corrupted. 

On payday, nobody got paid in 
Northern California's PayNet system. 
Granted, I fucked with the workers, but 
I really ruined Bank of America's credi- 
bility. A couple of the supervisors got 
fired. Heads rolled and that's all that 
mattered to me. They knew I did it; I 
even admitted it, but this was before 
there were laws against these types of 
things. Technically, I didn't commit a 
crime. All I did was destroy data. I 
didn't steal anything. 


I'm at my place of employment ngni 
now as I type this into my Macintosh. I 
could be working. At least it looks like 
I'm working. Since I'm a technical 

Hitting It 
Can't Fix It, 

but it might 

fix you an afternoon off!' 

graphic by Solly Malulu 

writer, it's only natural that I'd be filling 
up my screen with words. However, for 
the last four years, I have spent only one 
third of my time at work filling the 
screen with work-related words. 

I'm a generalist, a person with diverse 
interests which multiply daily. Left 
alone and well-financed, I would pro- 
duce voluminous amounts of creative 
stuff in a variety of media. But alas, 
society doesn't cater to such capricious 
and irresponsible thinkers. So I circum- 
vent society's shortcomings, and still pay 
the bills, by doing my techno-artistic 
projects at work, on company time. In 
the last four years, I have written a 
novella, a workbook for a major pub- 
lishing company's science textbook, two 
travel narratives, and countless smaller 
things. I have explored computer music, 
art, and animation at work and have 
even written a computer game. I have 
spent at least a couple thousand hours of 
company time on my projects, and at a 
pretty good salary. 

Most of my company work involves 
text and graphics, but so do my projects. 
Most of the time, my co-workers think I 
am working for the company. I'm never 
too cautious. Over-caution leads to 
paranoia, and paranoia dampens the 
hedonistic spirit. The co-workers who 
catch me have mixed reactions. Some of 
them subscribe to the old ethic and think 
you should devote all your time to work. 
Others wish they could find the time at 
work to do non-work related stuff like I 
do. My various bosses have never 
caught on. So my co-workers tolerate or 
admire me. They are usually too caught 
up in their own activities to pay direct 

attention to mine. And my bosses are 
content that my productivity is up to or 
beyond par. 

My situation is a by-product of the 
company environment. I will try to get 
away with whatever I can for the sake of 


I beat "the system" by helping to foul 
up a computer system for the largest 
bank in the United States. I did it, well, 
sort of accidentally. I've always felt 
ill-at-ease with the intentional stuff. 

I started working for a savings and 
loan several years back, in the systems 
department. Frank, the resident com- 
puter expert there, was six feet tall and 
impeccably groomed — the very image of 
conservatism. He was the one who 
taught me the art of corporate sabotage. 

Whenever there was a bug in the 
system, he took me to the computer 
room on the fourth floor. Most big 
corporations have their computer rooms 
protected by guards, pass-keys and 
special ID devices. Not this place. We 
just asked the old, revered receptionist 
to give us the key. She kept it in the 
unlocked top drawer of her desk. Once 
in the computer room, Frank and I 
would find five huge consoles blinking 
and whirring. When we — or rather, 
he— figured out which console had the 
problem, we would switch it off and on 
really fast. This erased loan data from 
all over California. But at least the 
computer system was working again. 

Ironically, Frank left the company to 
become a consultant. Now it was my job 
to take care of the company's computer 
hardware. It wasn't too long before the 
system went down again. I trudged to 
the fourth floor and asked the old, 
revered receptionist for the keys, which 
she surrendered gleefully. But I had a 
problem. I'd long since forgotten the 
procedure for figuring out which com- 
puters worked and which didn't. I could 
think of only one solution. I turned 
them all off and on really fast. I 
reminded myself to take a look at the list 
of company job offerings on the way to 
my desk. 

A few minutes later, a co-worker told 
me that everything was now working 
fine. He congratulated me for having 
absorbed so much during my short 
tenure in the systems department. 

One of the things I learned from all 
this is that the less you care about your 
job, the easier it is to indulge in 


sabotage. But there's a paradox to it. If 
you're doing something you really hate, 
why in the hell are you doing it? 


It's a city-owned bus utility, so it's 
heavily financed by the government. It's 
in a college town so drugs are considered 
part of the lifestyle. Marijuana use is a 
common thing among the people who 
live here. 

A group of drivers and mechanics got 
concerned after we got federal orders 
that all bus utility workers employed by 
a company getting Urban Mass Transit 
Administration money would have to be 
drug tested. People were just saying, 
"This sucks! The government doesn't 
have any right to tell us what to do." We 
wanted to know why we had to jeopar- 
dize our jobs for having a joint on the 

First, someone xeroxed a brochure on 
how to flush your system out. So I 
started copying that and giving it out. 
Then a couple of people got information 
from the American Civil Liberties Uni- 
on on what our rights were. And 
interestingly enough, our union, which 
wasn't a very active union, started 
getting involved. 

When something really hits home, 
people start to get more involved. We 
started gathering information which 
spread around the shop. The level of 
interest increased as we got closer to the 
date the random tests were supposed to 
begin. Some people stopped using their 
drug of choice until they could figure 
out what was going on. 

The weekend before the drug testing 
was to begin, we had an "After- Holidays 
Party." Somebody — nobody knows who 
it was, though someone in management 
thought they knew — brought in a pan of 
brownies laced with marijuana. Obvi- 
ously, the purpose was so innocent 
people would test positive in the drug 
test, and the results would have to be 
thrown out. 

Once people heard about it they 
crossed their fingers. The brownies 
became the hit of the party. The tension 
grew every time an unsuspecting dis- 
patcher or supervisor ate one of the 
brownies. Unfortunately, the general 
manager didn't eat any. Nobody real- 
ized what had happened until it was too 
late. All they knew was that the pan of 
brownies had been eaten. Management 
was completely flustered. They had 
absolutely no idea of what to do. 

A couple of weeks later a federal court 

ruling came down that knocked down 
the testing requirement because of some 
technicality. The Urban Mass Transit 
Administration had to rewrite the rule, 
so we have a year reprieve. In the 
meantime, we're trying to get new 
language in our contract. The federal 
government can tell you to have random 
drug testing but it can't mandate disci- 
pline. If we don't succeed, I know at 
next year's party, people are going to 
look at the brownies and ask themselves, 
"Do I want to eat these?" 


I worked at the Heritage Founda- 
tion, a conservative think-tank on Cap- 

itol Hill. It's a group of attorneys, 
columnists, whatever, who crank out 
— daily or weekly or whatever— 
information. It's printed downstairs, in 
the xerox room, and distributed to 
senators, congressmen, and other in- 
fluential people. In a couple of cases I 
delivered packages addressed to Ed 
Meese. That gives you an idea of what 
kind of people work there. My basic 
duties were to collect mail in the morn- 
ings from the post office, sort it, distri- 
bute it, and so on. I pretty much did 
everything myself and I had a lot of 

I got the job right after high school. I 
had never heard of the organization, 
and just found the job through the 


newspaper. When I was working there, 
I would occasionally glance at what they 
were putting out; the more I read, the 
more I thought about it and realized 
that they were doing fucked-up things, 
like defending business practices in South 
Africa and U.S. investments there. 

They have a big fundraising deal, and 
when they send out fundraising re- 
quests, people would mail in checks. 
Sometimes they'd be huge amounts, and 
sometimes they were piddling. Checks 
came in from individuals as well as 
companies. So I'd randomly take an 
envelope, open it, see how much it was 
for, and throw it in the shredder. I 
started doing it more and more. I could 
tell if it was a check by holding it to the 
light. If so, I'd toss it, dump it or shred 

graphic by Tracy Cox 



Being a bike messenger in Seattle is 
hellish, but we had it kind of cush. We 
had to work our butts off, but at least we 
got paid by the hour. 

The company always let us wear 
shorts, but since we had to wear compa- 
ny T-shirts, we cut off the sleeves. All of 
a sudden the company decided to clean 
up its image because they were dealing 
with big businesses. They started mak- 
ing us wear long pants and shirts made 
of heavy material, which is insane. Try 
biking ten miles up hills, up massive 
hills with heavy packages as fast as you 
can, in long pants! 

All of the messengers agreed there 
was no way this could continue. We all 
decided that we wouldn't wash our 
clothes at all and that we'd wear the 

same thing every day. We also realized 
that the intense heat you build up when 
you bike, mixed with the right food, 
means you're farting all the time. So we 
found the right type of food that caused 
the worst type of explosions, and when- 
ever we were in a big office building, we 
farted. You can imagine what it was be 
like when one of us was in an elevator 
with ten businesspeople in suits. Our 
clothes were stinking, our bodies were 
stinking and within a month the compa- 
ny had enough complaints to let us wear 
shorts again. 


I was sick of starving so I needed a 
job. I walked into the California Em- 
ployment Development Department 
and this was posted on the wall: "Be a 
bank teller. We'll train you." I didn't 
have any experience at all. I just went in 
and took an aptitude and math test and 
aced them both. Then I went to a week 
of teller school that was run by Bank of 
America. They taught me how to count 
money, handle irate people, and what to 
do if someone pulled a gun on me. 

The job was okay. It was just a job 
but I was getting paid more money than 
I had ever been paid before. I ended up 
working there for a little more than a 
year. There wasn't that much job pres- 
sure at first, but then there was this 
weird reorganization. I started out 
working part time, but then they had me 
doing other work and paid me at a lower 
rate for these extra hours. I was working 
full time but classified as part time so I 
wound up making less but working 
more. I got kind of tired of working full 
time but I was told that if I wanted to 
keep my job I would have to keep 
working those hours — they refused to 
hire me full time. 

This is when I put the word out to my 
friends that I would cash any check, just 
come on down. So over the course of a 
couple of days, there was a stream of 
people who had forged checks, or had 
scammed them somehow and I cashed 
them. The next day was the busiest day 
of the year for that particular branch; a 
Friday, the first of October, payday for 
welfare. Social Security, San Francisco 
General, MUNI, the City, and private 
business. The line was out the door and 
I just didn't show up. My soon-to-be- 
wife, who also worked there with me, 
didn't show up either. We were the two 
best tellers at the bank and we were also 
the only ones who spoke English as our 
first language. It just wrecked that 

branch. I think that did more damage 
than all of the bad checks that I'd 
cashed. I never went back. They tried to 
call but we didn't answer the phone for a 

Eventually all those checks came back 
as bad. I knew that if you steal from a 
bank from the inside, you'll never be 
prosecuted because it hurts the bank's 
reputation. So I didn't think twice about 
doing what I did. I did it to get even, 
which I don't think really happened, but 
it did make me feel better. 


Federal employees are subjected to a 
wide range of management styles. The 
agencies and bureaus have widely dif- 
ferent missions and very little training 
and development for their "professional" 
supervisors and managers. As a result, 
there is a widely divergent set of stan- 
dards among even adjoining offices. 

The Federal Executive Board is a 
loose internal organization which estab- 
lishes certain policies and procedures for 
federal agencies in a particular section of 
the U.S. — the "somebodies" who deter- 
mine snow days and administrative 
leave. "Snow days" are reserved for 
worsening snow conditions, while "ad- 
ministrative leaves" are arbitrary em- 
ployee leaves given around the Christ- 
mas holidays. 

On a particularly slow Christmas Eve 
workday, I called the Regional Manager 
of all Northeast federal operations. I 
introduced myself to his secretary as 
"Steve Watkins" of the Federal Execu- 
tive Board. The name was entirely 
fictitious, but the affiliation wasn't lost 
on the secretary. In a flash, she patched 
me through to the man who managed 
the entire Northeast. 

Although I was a bit panicked, I 
plunged ahead and breezily introduced 

"Hello Ralph," I boomed. "This is 
Steve Watkins with the Federal Execu- 
tive Board. How are you?" 

This was the moment of truth. If he 
realized that he'd never heard of Steve 
Watkins, or had taken a similar phone 
call minutes earlier, the game would be 

"Oh, hi Steve, how are^ou?" 

This was fantastic! The Northeast 
Regional Manager was schmoozing 
away on the phone with a non-existent 
peer, at taxpayer expense. 

"Ralph," I continued, "I thought I'd 
better call. We've decided that as of 3:00 


pm you can let the chickens out of the 

"Great!" said Ralph. He thanked me 
for the call and we exchanged hearty 
Christmas wishes. 

It was a done deal and I was weak 
with relief. True to his word, Ralph 
called all his agency heads and, proba- 
bly struggling into his own winter boots, 
passed on the good news. Within twenty 
minutes, all of the tiniest sub-offices 
across hundreds of miles in six different 
states had received the word. If news 
travels fast, good news goes out like a 

I take pride in single-handedly af- 
fording hundreds of federal employees a 
crack at some last-minute Christmas 


I slept with men for money. I worked 
in a brothel that was advertised as a 
massage parlor with five other women 
on an eight-hour shift. The majority of 
customers were just married, middle 
class men. Some guys were disabled and 
had a hard time finding someone to be 
with, so it was easier for them to pay for 

The owner got tired of the business so 
he took on this new partner. This new 
guy couldn't handle things and stopped 
coming into the parlor except to pick up 
the money at the end of each night. So, 
we got to manage ourselves. We were in 
charge of all the money, but our rent, 
bills and the cops were all still paid by 
the owner, which was the best part. 

The men would come in and pick the 
girl they wanted. When we got them in 
the room alone, we would find out what 
they wanted. We were making pretty 
good money — but then we decided to up 
our rates. It was supposed to be $60 
dollars for a hand job, $70 for a blow job 
and $80 for a full service, which is what 
we called sex. We started charging $80, 
$90 and $100. The customers couldn't 
really argue with us because we could do 
practically whetever we wanted. Some- 
times we kept the place open later or 
opened up earlier than we were sup- 
posed to. Everybody was supposed to do 
three customers a day; that was the 
average. The owners didn't know how 
many customers came in on a night or 
how much was charged. 

Each night we picked a woman to run 
the books. She would keep track of the 
money that came in, the room fees, and 
if a customer used a credit card. The 
woman doing the books would docu- 

graphic by Fuzzy Mudge, from Mercury Rising magazine 

Yes. It's true. I am disappointed 
in the outcome of the Persian 
Gulf War. 

You see, I have always had a 
fantasy that one day a war would 
come. 1 would put the best of my 
abilities to work and yet 1 would 
be crushed and defeated. The 
enemy would burst into my head- 
quarters and take me prisoner. 

Blindfolded, I would be brought 
before their leader. He would 
violate my body repeatedly with 
his personal firearm, and then 
leave me to the pleasure of his 
guard elite. They would force me 
to service them one by one, bela- 
boring my buttocks with their 

Days later, 1 would be strapped 
into a harness and suspended 
above a large vat of the collected 
syphilitic urine of hundreds of 
male prostitutes. A lowly peasant 
would be invited to toss a base- 
ball at a target which would release 
my bound form into the vat. 

The national press would be 
unable to resist publicizing the 
image of my tightly bound fat 
bulging from the bindings as 1 
gargle helplessly in the pustulant 
pool. Our nation would hold its 
breath in shame and horror! 

This is not too much to ask. 
That I may find one day an 
enemy which 1 can submit to. It 
may take many more wars before 
my dream is fulfilled. 1 hope that 
the American people will grant 
me this small request. 

ment most of the customers but leave 
out three a night, which would total 
about $60 that she got to keep. Each 
night we took our turn doing the books. 
We all agreed to it and it worked out 
great. We worked really well with each 
other and all became friends. 

This gave us the feeling of being more 
than just prostitutes, because we had 
control over our bodies and what we 
were doing. 


Like my father, I've been doing 
plumbing pretty much my whole life. 
Our family was kind of poor, so I 
worked through high school. 

A friend and I had a job where we 
were doing the plumbing for a house 
under construction. It was a side job, 
working directly for the owner. We had 
done all of the copper pipes that go 
underneath the concrete floor of the 
house. The concrete had been poured 
over the pipes, which had been looped 
up through the floor to hook up to the 
fixtures. It was at this stage when the 
owner started going back on his word. 
He said, after the job had been done. 

that the quote we agreed on was too 
much. He said, "I can't pay you for this 
and I'll only pay you for that." Then he 
said something like, "You're not even 
licensed, so I might not pay you at all." 
The guy thought he could save money 
and finish it himself. 

We immediately got bad attitudes. 
We packed the water pipes full of nails. 
We didn't do all of the pipes, but we put 
enough nails in there so he would have a 
problem. We could have used a high 
pressure hose to blow the nails out if we 
knew we were going to finish the job, 
but it never happened, so we left them 
in there. 

He came back to us later because 
every time he turned on the faucets in 
his brand new house he heard all of this 
rattling. What he didn't know was that 
not only was he going to have the noises, 
but in time the nails would rust up, 
wrecking the washers in the faucets. 

We definitely got more satisfaction 
than guilt from what we did. We didn't 
have anything to lose. I still think we got 
fucked because we didn't get paid, but 
he got fucked too. You gotta cover your 
ass any way that you can. 



hadn't been paid much, but it 
was close to where she Hved. If 
one of the kids was sick, she could 
put him on a pallet on the floor of 
her office. Or run out on Thurs- 
days to take her daughter to 
gymnastics class. No one com- 
plained if Sissy took extra time 
getting in or left a little early. 
The job was convenient, and that 
in itself made it an unusual and 
desirable situation. 

When Sissy first came to her old job, 
her boss was vice-president in charge of 
production. Short and tidy with cropped 
hair, she wore rumpled tweed jackets 
and boy's trousers, and always made a 
point of telling Sissy how great her legs 
were — something men never said. This 
woman had lived with a female 
companion for over ten years, and they 
had had one child by artificial insemina- 

At the old job Sissy managed to 
survive the tidal waves of cut-backs and 
lay-offs, even though she was officially 
laid off twice. The first time she stayed 
in her office tidying up, thinking that 
what was happening to everyone else 
wasn't really happening to her. The 
delusion worked because by closing 
time, they had found another position to 
offer her. She went from technical editor 
to telemarketer, or as Sissy put it, 
TEL-MAR-KETEER, sung to the 
Mouseketeer theme. 

However, the vice-president in 
charge of production went bye-bye in 
this first round of lay-offs. The date 
happened to coincide with her fortieth 
birthday, and on the spot she told Sissy 
that she had made the final decision to 
have a sex change. All the way with 
hormones and surgery. She said she had 
always been a man trapped in a wom- 
an's body. When Sissy saw her a year 
later, she had a rough complexion, a 
deep voice, plentiful growths of hair on 
her arms, and a new executive job. 

Also, she was in the middle of a nasty 
divorce since her girlfriend didn't want 
to live with a man. Sissy realized she 
hadn't really been a lesbian after all. 
The former vice-pres in charge of pro- 
duction told Sissy that the greatest thing 
about her new life was going into the 
men's room and not having anyone look 
at you funny. It was always hard for 
Sissy to remember to call her "him." 

The marketing manager was Sissy's 
new boss, and he decided that she 
should take the Southeast territory, 
meaning the last and worst choice. As 
far as everyone else was concerned, the 
South was the garbage can of sales, but 
Sissy was from Georgia and with her 
accent she left the other telemarketers 
with New York and Los Angeles accents 
in the dust. In fact, in the first month 
Sissy sold $25,000 worth of software on 
a cold call to Chattanooga. 

All around her, Sissy saw 

variations of the same people 

she had already met and worked 

with in another town at 

another place. 

The second time Sissy was laid off, 
she stuck around again. By closing, it 
turned out that someone in publications 
had upped and quit in disgust so she 
automatically got his job. 

No one in the company wanted to lay 
Sissy off because of her kids. She needed 
the money and the health plan. But 
Sissy discovered that in the business 
world no matter how much anyone said 
they liked and wanted you, or how 
many times they told you what a good 
job you were doing, when it came to 
cuts, the word was always that it was out 
of their hands. Being a corporation 
meant you could always pass along the 
blame, and at lay-off time, it was the 
board of directors' decision, whom no- 
body had ever met. Sissy learned in her 
first experience with lay-offs that corpo- 
rate life fundamentally depended on 
secrecy at the top. 

When Sissy asked her co-workers if 
that was really how they wanted their 
world run, they always shook their 
heads, no, no, no. But when you came 
right down to it, everyone was scared in 
the pants about losing their job. In other 
words, no matter what you thought 
about the world or how unselfishly you 
tried to live your life, you were always 
relieved when the other guy got it and 
you did not. That was how the system 

Basically Sissy continued to survive 
because everyone at the company 
thought she was smart. That was how 
she had gotten along at school too. 
Although she never did the best work, 
teachers assumed she could and reward- 
ed her with A's. 

Sissy's cousin, Ada Lynn, insisted 
their cross in life wasn't only looks but 
brains, too. Ada Lynn said that beauty 
plus intelligence was too much of a 
package for most men. And that's why 
they had the problems they did. 

But Ada Lynn was being kind. She 
was definitely the one with the looks and 
was the cheerleader, homecoming 
queen. Miss Georgia Chick, etc. Since 
the seventh grade. Sissy had watched 
while boys and men responded to Ada 
Lynn, observing that if you were beau- 
tiful, it only served as an asset up to a 
point. After that point it was definitely a 
liability. If you were ugly, the process 
worked in reverse — first rejection, and 
then a lifetime of trust. 

Part of what Ada Lynn said was true. 
Back then Sissy had been very smart. 
Now she wasn't so sure. She asked Ada 
Lynn how come if she were such a 
genius, she found herself supporting a 
couple kids from fathers who did noth- 
ing to help her pay the bills? That 
probably required the intelligence quo- 
tient of a turtle. Stupider than a turde, 
she corrected. At least, a turtle left her 
eggs to fend for themselves. 

She also wondered how, with her good 
looks and beauty trophies, Ada Lynn 
had ended up a young widow with three 
kids and bottomless debts. 

One day the president of Sissy's 


company (and there were five in the last 
eighteen months of its existence) an- 
nounced to Sissy that he had saved her 
job at the last board meeting. He had 
told them what great work she was 
doing, how many kids she had, what 
good grades they made in school, and 
how smart she was. Blah blah blah. 
Although Sissy was grateful, she under- 
stood that now she owed him some- 
thing and it was a smarmy feeling at 

A few days later, the president asked 
Sissy if she could possibly find time to 
help him pick out a pair of new dress 
shoes. He explained that he never made 
the right decisions when it came to 
clothes, and since his wife had left him, 
he needed a W-O-M-A-N to come 

It only took Sissy a moment to recall a 
piece of her genetic inheritance — stone 
coldness, straight from her grandmother 
Olivia— and very effectively Sissy icily 
explained that surely the president must 
understand that as a single mother, 
blah, blah, her responsibilities outside 
the job were overwhelming. In other 
words, she could never in a million 
years and not if he were the last man on 
the planet. 

This president prided himself on the 
efforts he made to be open and clear to 
his employees, with the expectation that 
each of them should tell him everything. 
This was the result of management 
training courses in sensitivity at Har- 
vard Business school. "My door is 
always open," "don't think you can't 
come to me with anything," blah, blah, 
blah. "If you're having problems" or "if 
you see someone else having problems," 

Honestly, he did try to be communi- 
cative, and it was true that his door was 
always open. But it mostly served to let 
everyone hear the arguments he had 
with his ex-wife's lawyer. As president, 
this man functioned under the illusion 
that the company was a tribe planting 
the same seeds, reaping the same har- 
vest. The difference was that he was 
making an annual $100,000 to dig for 
roots, while Sissy was making a crummy 

A week after he asked Sissy to help 
him find a new pair of shoes, he must 
have noticed that she had stopped 
speaking to him. One morning as she 
slithered past his gaping door, he called 
out, "Sissy, could you come in here for a 
moment? I'd like to speak to you." After 
asking her to sit down and shutting the 
two exterior doors, he invited her to 

express her feelings. Unless you've been 
asked to go shopping by your boss, it 
would be impossible for you to know 
how disgusting a request this was. 

"Has something I've said offended 
you?" He inquired. "Has it anything to 
do with suggesting you go with me on 
an innocent trip to the mall?" 

Sissy told him she hated to shop for 
other people's shoes and then she got 
frank. She said that she resented his 
friendliness and his assumptions. She 
probably would have lost her job on the 
next go-round, but he got canned a 
week later. She felt bad when she heard 
he didn't even know about it until he 
arrived at the board meeting. 

At this company it was the joke that 
you couldn't get hired unless you were 
handicapped or aberrant. Sissy's claim 
to being strange was her mysterious past. 
Anyone could look in her face and see 
that. One of her incisors was gold and 
she had a crescent moon tattooed on the 
inside of her left forearm. She had lived 
in Guatemala and almost died when her 
appendix burst on a bus in Afghanistan. 
She had walked across Borneo and 
followed the sacred elephant with the 
Buddha's tooth through the mountains 
of Sri Lanka on the second full moon in 
August. Sissy's face showed stories 
which she never told anyone. Who 
would believe them after seeing the kind 
of ordinary problems she had now? 

The last aberration to come on board 
before the company went under was a 
man whose voice was so high that it was 
reasonable to assume he had had a 
terrible accident in the vicinity of his 
private parts. However, once the com- 
pany really started to roll downhill, his 
voice lowered two octaves, and he 
officially took over as comptroller. 

Towards the end. Sissy unofficially 

graphic by Hugh d'Andrade 

changed her job title to Czarina of Sales 
because her territory in two years had 
expanded from the pitiful Southeast to 
the Eastern division of the entire United 
States and Canada. From educational 
and textbook distribution to international 
markets. In other words, she had the 
whole world, and it was all her vast but 
crumbling empire. 

Sissy's greatest friend at the old 
company was a world renowned chef 
who had fallen on hard times. He came 
to fill in as a receptionist and stayed on. 
Not only was he a master cook, but he 
knew everything about opera. He ex- 
plained to Sissy the difference between a 
Mozart and Verdi soprano and told her 
that Callas' greatness was her mortali- 
ty. "When she sings," he said, "you can 
hear her burning up." 

After the company closed down, he 
stayed on to help sort files, discovering 
that every company transaction had 
been documented dozens of times. He 
said the nightmare of the entire century 
lay by the ton in the dumpster out back, 
and in these times the only reason 
people had jobs was to create files that 
no one looked at or needed. 

Although it wasn't loyalty that made 
Sissy stay, after so many internal trou- 
bles, financial vicissitudes, and a vicious 
lawsuit, loyalty was how it appeared. 
Sissy had stayed as the company de- 
clined from its original robust sixty to its 
pathetic finale of seven employees. 
When it was over, the last president 
commended her and the others for their 
doggedness over a bottle of expensive 

Now Sissy had a new job. The duties 
were the same as the old job, but the 
new company was in Lafayette where 
she didn't have her own office, where 
she had to commute, where there wasn't 




, C0U^4TS, DEAR/ 

YKNCm/PAL, A^ citizens AND 



Penelope. 's example, v-ze cam 



a pool to swim in at lunch. 

At the new job Sissy noticed right 
away that the place was full of weirdos, 
and it was nearly an identical set to the 
old place. There was a transsexual, man 
to woman, in customer service. And the 
technician who set up Sissy's computer 
was a soft spoken guy like her anti- 
macho friend Roberto at the old compa- 
ny. Besides gentle manners and the 
same first name they both wore baggy 
purple pants and two tiny gold hoop 
earrings in the same ear. 

In the cubicle next to Sissy's was 
another familiar face, a robust Irishman 
with a Dolby stereo voice. He brought 
in donuts, organized frisbee tag at 
Friday lunch, and obsessed about 
Women. He was a version of her fellow 
cheerleader and rival in the old telemar- 
keting department. 

On her second day at the new job, the 
Irishman cornered Sissy by the xerox 
machine and asked what kind of music 
she liked, where she went on weekends, 
if she liked to go out dancing, etc. A 
series of enthusiastic questions from him 
was followed by a round of listless 
responses from Sissy. Finally, after a 
few weeks he asked her what she thought 
a man should do who had a crush on a 
girl who never noticed. "Nothing," Sissy 
said. "Absolutely nothing at all." 

The two women who ran the art 
department at the new company were 
exactly like the two who had run it at the 
old. Thin, cheerful gals nearing forty, 
with neatly combed pony-tails, over- 
sized glasses, and lipstick that never 
cracked. They wore outfits, meaning 
they shopped in department stores, and 
never cut or dyed their hair themselves. 

The young man who supervised 
shipping at the new company was a 
version of the one who had run it at the 
old. Both were skinny shag blonds 
whose calf muscles bulged like rolled 
socks. They typically wore cut-off jeans, 
cropped Van Halen T-shirts, and drove 
four-wheel-drive trucks plastered with 
mylar decals. 

At the new job there were two clerical 
gals who Sissy could have been friends 
with, but it would have taken five years. 
They were good looking black women 
whose large plastic earrings always 
matched their blouses. They did their 
job fine but they made relentless fun of 
the place. Something Sissy totally ap- 
proved of. After all, they weren't being 
paid not to. 

On the other hand. Sissy's new boss 
was being paid plenty to take everything 
very seriously, and he had the car to prove 

it. Sissy, however, liked him a lot. He 
was handsome, tall, foreign with an 
elegant wardrobe. Most of all, he was 
smart. He ran the company like the 
province that his family owned in the 
third world country of his origin. Noth- 
ing went out without his approval. 

At the old job, coincidentally, the 
company's founder had also been tall, 
foreign, suave, and wore custom-made 
clothes from Hong Kong. And at both 
companies this sign hung by the coffee 

Nine World Religions In A Nutshell 

Taoism: Shit happens. 


Confucius say, "Shit happens." 


If shit happens, it isn't really shit. 

Zen: What is the sound of shit happening? 

Hinduism: This shit happened before. 

Islam: If shit happens, 

it is the will of Allah. 


Let shit happen to someone else. 


If shit happened, you deserved it. 


Why does shit always happen to us? 

They were all pretty good but Sissy 
liked the Protestant one best. It fit in 
with the feeling everyone had at lay-off 

It didn't take long before the similar- 
ities between the old company and the 
new company had Sissy spooked. Mul- 
tiplying coincidence times probability, 
she came up with a few slight variations 
and a bunch of uncanny resemblances. 
Something greater than weird. 

Sissy tried to reason, tried to joke, but 
the more she pushed the similarities out 
of her mind the more the new job 
appeared like a phantom clone of the 
old. Soon it wasn't funny. Maybe she 
had died one night on the freeway 
coming home from work and was in- 
stantly reincarnated as an office worker. 
That's why things were a little off. A 
classic case of bad karma. 

Sissy had watched enough episodes of 
the Twilight Zone with her kids, espe- 
cially the 24-hour marathon when they 
all curled up in front of the television 
and ate popcorn for dinner, to know 
that people did get lost in time or space 
and did end up in places that seemed 
like somewhere else. 

Sissy, in fact, went through the list of 
psychological maladies, family curses, 
and various religious beliefs, to try to 
figure out explanations for her circum- 

stance. All around her, Sissy saw varia- 
tions of the same people she had already 
met and worked with in another town at 
another place. 

She called her cousin Ada Lynn to ask 
if she had ever considered her to be 

"You know, like a nut," Sissy asked. 
"Like the kind of person that grows on 
trees in our family." 

Ada Lynn told Sissy that the only 
time she ever thought she might be a 
little off was when she took up with the 
sax player who didn't have a real house 
and camped out in the woods. Ada 
Lynn said she thought that with all the 
troubles Sissy had keeping the kids 
together, she might have hooked up 
with someone a little more substantial. 
But it hadn't lasted long, and Ada Lynn 
assured her that except for that one 
little incident of romantic misguidance, 
she considered Sissy the sanest person 
she knew. 

Sissy said that even though she might 
not be crazy, maybe she was having a 
nervous breakdown. Maybe the strings 
that had held her together while she 
made the money to go to the store to buy 
the things the kids needed were starting 
to wear out. Maybe she was losing it. 
Ada Lynn told her if she were having a 
nervous breakdown, she probably 
wouldn't know it. Her kids would know 
it, her boss would know it, but she 
wouldn't be calling up with an inquiry. 
That just didn't make sense. 

Okay, so Sissy wasn't crazy, wasn't 
cracking up, then why did everything 
that was different look the same? Ada 
Lynn said she had had times when the 
world looked the same way to her, too. 
Ever since she was a teenager, Ada 
Lynn had always had more than one 
boyfriend. Even when she was married, 
she had someone on the side. Ada Lynn 
swore that from time to time something 
would happen where she couldn't tell the 
men in her life apart. 

"Talk about horrible," she said. "I 
would go into a panic. I could not tell 
which was which, who was who and got 
so scared that I was going to get their 
names mixed up, I stopped seeing all of 
them. I moved out of the master 
bedroom and in with one of the kids for a 
week. Don't you think I thought I had 
some kind of disease?" Ada Lynn asked. 
"Sure as hell I did. Don't you think I 
drove myself to the neurologist in At- 
lanta as fast as I could. They took tests 
and gave me tranquilizers, but they 
always told me there was absolutely 
nothing wrong with my brain, Sissy, 


and that is what I am telling you." 

"Then what is wrong?" Sissy cried. 

Ada Lynn suggested that maybe there 
was another explanation. Maybe Sissy 
had already seen too much in her 
lifetime, traveling to Borneo and Sikkim 
like she had, having all those different 
colored lovers, living in a tepee in New 
Mexico, eating peyote and psychedelic 
mushrooms, etc. Ada Lynn said all that 
had soaked up Sissy's capacity, "saturat- 
ed" was the word she used, to see the 
differences in things like office work. At 
that level it probably did look alike. Ada 
Lynn said maybe everything was start- 
ing to blend. 

"But don't you think blending suffi- 
cient cause for alarm?" Sissy asked. 

Sure, she did. "That's why you have 
got to quit your job," Ada Lynn told 

Sissy knew that was the truth, but she 
didn't know how she could. She'd been 
working in an office and taking care of 
kids and doing laundry and washing 
dishes and paying bills for a long, long 
time. Bad habits are always harder to 
break than good ones. 

"Quit," Ada Lynn said. "And do what 
you want for a while. See what happens. 
Things will work out." 

Do what you want. Do what you 
want. Do what you want. For a week 
those words rolled around in Sissy's 
head like a sackful of marbles. 

Then Sissy called Ada Lynn and told 
her that she had decided she didn't care 
if the kids ate popcorn for dinner. "It 
won't kill them. In fact, it's good for 
them. Good to see that motherhood isn't 
a crucifixion." Sissy said that she was 
turning in her resignation the next day. 

In the morning Sissy shouted into the 
hall of the two-bedroom apartment. 
When the kids arrived at the dinette 
table, Sissy was standing at the stove 
flipping Swedish pancakes, a dish 
usually reserved for Sunday. 

"Mama, how come you're making 
pancakes on Tuesday?" 

"Mama, how come you're not 

"Mama, aren't you going to work 

"Mama, will you take me shopping?" 

"Mama, are you sick?" 

"Mama, why aren't you going to work 

Why, why, why? The word bounced 
off the walls of the apartment a hundred 
times, as expressions of alarm passed 
along her children's faces. 

"Because I want to do what I want to 
do for a while," Sissy said, low, slow and 

That sounded good enough to the 
kids, for after all, they tried to do what 
they wanted to whenever they could get 
away with it. But as the sentence 
tumbled out of Sissy's mouth, it was 
terrible. Childish, unmotherly, irre- 
sponsible. Yet she made herself repeat 
it, until the words got louder and more 
cheerful and she was singing, "I Ain't 
Gonna Work on Maggie's Farm No 
More" like a crazy woman. Singing and 
flipping Swedish pancakes. 

After the kids left for school, Sissy 
called her best friend and sang to her. 
Called her ex-husband and sang to him. 
Her cousin Ada Lynn and sang to her. 
Then she went to her boss, stopped into 
the unemployment agency. And all the 
time she was singing. And you could 
hear mortality in her voice. You could 
hear Sissy burning up. She sang she 
didn't want to work on Maggie's farm no 
more. Sang she wasn't going to work on 
Maggie's farm no more. Said she had 
had enough of working on Maggie's 
farm. And thanks to Bob Dylan, every- 
body knew what she meant. 

— Summer Brenner 


/ / VAlJ lj lj lj 

I n the anxious gasoline-rationed 
summer of 1974, 1 was awarded 
my IVIaster's degree from a Cali- 
fornia State University. I awoke 
from thesis-and-orals trance to 
realize that my student visa was 
about to expire. I had come to the 
U.S. five years earlier as an under- 
graduate and had moved straight 
from my B.A. at the University of 
California into grad school. Now I 
was going to have to go "home" 
—that is, back to the country of 
my birth, which I had been trying 
so hard to forget about. Like most 
Northern European nations, mine 
was in those days a pretty com- 
fortable place, with a cradle-to- 
grave welfare state, a low rate of 
violent crime, and the prospect of 
subsidized further education if I 
wanted it. It was also repressed, 
conformist, rainy in summer and 
icy in winter, and very dull. I 
decided to stay on in California — 
forget the rest of the country — by 
hook or by crook. 

Hook was out: I had not been 
trained as an aerospace engineer 
or a portfolio management spe- 
cialist, so no company was going 
to write an affidavit claiming the 
irreplaceable uniqueness of my 
potential contribution to the 
American GNP. In fact, I had 
virtually no saleable skills other 
than fluent English, a knowledge 
of my chosen field of scholarship 
sufficient to get me a low-paid job 
in a junior technical college, and a 
certain talent for oral sex. I decid- 
ed to try Crook: that is, find 
someone to marry. 

Alison, my girlfriend of four 
years, was off the list. She was 
plausible enough, with an Ivy 
League B.A. and WASP creden- 
tials, but she was allergic to marri- 
age after a messy divorce a few 
years back. Also, what if they 
found out she was a part-time 
dominatrix, or checked her crimi- 
nal record and discovered the 
speeding tickets, the two prostitu- 
tion busts, and the arrests for 
demonstrating in support of the 
Black Panthers? Then there was 
my ex-lover Naomi. She too was a 
somewhat shell-shocked veteran 
of the late 'sixties counterculture 
—a surrealist poet, on-and-off 
spiritual seeker, and anarchafem- 
inist — but had managed to stay 
out of the official spotlight. Better 
yet, she was currently my house- 
mate, living on welfare with a 
dazed alcoholic screenwriter in a 

big old North Oakland Victorian. 
We would even legitimately have 
the same address; and if Immigra- 
tion gave us one of those notori- 
ous third-degree interviews about 
our personal habits, she would 
know just what I ate for breakfast 
and which side of the bed I slept 

I'm not sure what combination 
of substances Naomi had ingested 
that day— she had a formidable 
appetite for all sorts of psychotro- 
pic agents — but rather to my sur- 
prise she agreed to become my 
official spouse. What a pal, I 
thought. Sure enough, a week or 
two and a blood test later Naomi 
came with me in a thrift-shop 
dress and her one pair of nylons to 
the Alameda County Courthouse. 
We got hitched by a grey little 
Republican judge whose indiffer- 
ence to us was so complete that 
his face has smudged in my mem- 
ory like a greasy thumbprint. Then 
we went home and drank tequila. 

Next we had to go to the dismal 
chamber at the Immigration and 
Naturalization Service offices on 
Sansome Street where aspirants 
to the Promised Land filed Peti- 
tions for Permanent Resident 
Status. In those days one had to 
stand for four or five hours in a 
serpentine line defined by blue 
vinyl ropes, with no place to sit 
down, in order to reach a bored 
clerk who took the fee and 
stamped the papers. The long 
counter was adorned with eagle- 
sealed official threats about falsi- 
fying information and with one of 
those posters showing a kitten 
dangling by its front claws from a 
bar and captioned "Hang in there, 

Alas, Naomi felt unable to heed 
this patronizing advice any further. 
Ten months later, one week be- 
fore the interview at the INS, she 
got a Real Job with a Financial 
District company. Unmoved by all 
my pleading, she refused to come 
with me to Migra Central because 
the absence would look bad to her 
boss. Needless to say, despite my 
short haircut and new tweed jack- 
et, my solo appearance before the 
crisp, Mormonoid young INS offi- 
cial lacked a certain/e ne sais quoi. 
Further detracting from my attrac- 
tiveness as a Good Alien was a fat, 
dog-eared dossier on the agent's 
desk, whose title I read upside- 
down with a ghastly feeling of 
sudden free fall. It was a copy of 

my FBI file, packed with fun facts 
from my days as a campus radical 
during the Let's-Crater-Cambodia 
Era, not to mention my more 
recent media-guerrilla hijinx. The 
Mormonoid smirked a bit as he 
said he would have to take my 
case under consideration. 

Another long wait — about 
twenty-two months, actually. By 
this time I had moved in with 
Alison, while Naomi and her writer 
boyfriend Kevin were living down- 
stairs from us in another apart- 
ment. During the interim I had 
gone to great lengths to make it 
appear that I was living with 
Naomi in their flat, in preparation 
for the inevitable visit from the INS 
investigator. I left my books in her 
shelves, my clothes (improbably 
labeled with my name) in the chest 
of drawers, and actually sat with 
ever-increasing awkwardness in a 
corner of her living room every 
evening from 5:30 to 7:00, prime 
time for La Migra. Kevin dis- 
coursed amiably enough between 
chugs of Bud about the bit players 
in the Six-o'clock Movie, but Nao- 
mi stepped around me as if I were 
a cat-turd she hadn't yet had the 
stomach to scrape off the floor. 
Finally neither of us could stand it 
any more. So when the INS for- 
eigner-finder showed up, I wasn't 
there. Naomi told him I was just 
upstairs visiting the neighbors— 
which in a sense was true. (What 
he made of Kevin, who had hair to 
his waist and smelled like the 
bottom of a keg-tub after a frat 
party, I'll never know.) He didn't 
stick around to find out if she was 
telling the truth, but left his card 
and said he'd be back. After I 
climbed down off the ceiling with 
the aid of half a pint of schnapps, 
visions of deportation jangling in 
my brain (ohdeargodthey'llmarch- 
nevergetbackherenever) I decided 
it was time to get an expensive 

I say expensive because I had 
already tried cheap Leftist lawyers 
and found them unsatisfactory. 
The first, a referral from the Law- 
yer's Guild, was a weedy, earnest- 
ly liberal fellow with a preppy 
manner that was about two sizes 
too large for him. He made sym- 
pathetic noises and advised me to 
fly home and start over. The next 
two I visited worked for Legal 
Assistance offices in Latino neigh- 
borhoods. They were brusque. 

cold, and utterly unhelpful. After 
all, they intimated, I was a gringo 
— an Aryan in fact — and middle- 
class, so my problems were trivial. 
But my new attorney was the 
goods, an immigration specialist 
for over thirty years. A large, 
rotund, owl-faced man in his early 
seventies with cigar ash down his 
vest, he pressed the tips of his 
fingers together and remarked in 
an undiluted Bronx accent that 
this was indeed "a matta of some 
deli-cussy." Calmly, he advised 
me to divorce Naomi and marry 
Alison. Then, he said, we could 
"draw a veil" over the previous 

Luckily I had gotten a straight 
and quite lucrative job while wait- 
ing for the Sword of the State to 
drop, while Naomi was unem- 
ployed once more. I was able to 
ship her off to friends in Reno, 
where she established residency 
after two weeks and was able to 
run our marriage through the Ne- 
vada Divorce-o-Mat. Over the 
phone she complained bitterly of 
how bored she was with no Kevin, 
no drugs, and not even enough 
pocket money to go gambling, but 
she did it. 

That was the easy part. Getting 
Alison to marry me was quite 
another matter. Her marriage al- 
lergy was intensified by the fact 
that our relationship was, as you 
Americans say, circling the drain. 
We had long since parted ways 
ideologically, she having turned 
into a New Age Joy-Junkie while I 
stuck to my anarcho-marxist guns. 
More important, she had been 
seeing another man, a charming if 
somewhat dissipated actor, two 
nights a week for about a year. 
From this fellow she had acquired 
herpes, the gift that keeps on 
giving. Of course, she vehemently 
asserted when we both got those 
nasty little blisters that / had given 
it to her. This was because, some 
three months earlier, I had finally, 
in exhausted retaliation, fallen in 
love with a wonderful Rebel Girl 
named Morgan — smart, sweet, 
and honorable. And (suitably rub- 
bered) I was passionately en- 
twined with Morgan whenever I 
got the chance, alternating love- 
making with pillow talk about 
Hegel and the Labor Theory of 


Value. But despite Morgan's un- 
hesitating offer to marry me, and 
precisely because I adored her, I 
couldn't take her up on it. The 
whole thing was too new, and she 
was only twenty-one to my twen- 
ty-eight. Not only that, but I had 
almost finished paying for Alison's 
graduate training as— what else? 
—a Marriage, Family and Child 
Counselor, which made me immi- 
nently dispensable to her. To call 
our relationship "troubled" would 
be like describing Mike Tyson as 

Never one to let logic or equity 
stand in her way, moreover, Ali- 
son had become frantically jealous 
of Morgan. For some reason this 
green-eyed fury intensified when I, 
ironically equipped with a dozen 
red roses, popped the question. 
Finally, after cursing me almost 
continuously for three days, Ali- 
son sullenly agreed to tie the knot. 
We were married on her lunch 

The next day I had my lawyer 
file the petitions with the INS. He 
swept through Sansome's Inferno 
in a genial cigar-scented breeze, 
brushing aside bureaucrats like dry 
leaves: you could almost see them 
diving under the desks when he 

Alison and I passed the ten 
months or so between petition and 
interview in alternate crockery- 
smashing Armageddon and fake- 
cheery mutual tolerance, humping 
our respective extramarital honeys 

on the agreed nights (though Ali- 
son, losing what shreds of cool 
she had left, took to calling me at 
Morgan's place at two in the 
morning and whining about being 
lonely). Still, we found out once 
again what had always held our 
seven-year struggle together: lust. 
Under these bizarre conditions we 
had sex that, while not involving 
sheep, rubber masks, baguettes, 
or Boy Scout uniforms, was emo- 
tionally kinky and lurid in quite 
indescribable ways. This may be 
why on the day of the interview, 
Alison put on her protoyuppiest 
outfit (over black lace Frederick's 
of Hollywood underwear; she 
couldn't do it completely straight), 
I slipped on my new Italian suit 
and red silk tie, and we sailed into 
the drab little office hand in hand 
in true ruling-class style. 

I noticed right away that my file 
on the desk was slim as a televan- 
gelist's alibi and brand new. The 
examiner caught my glance and 
announced sheepishly that my 
original file had been "misplaced." 
(I've always like to think that Old 
Deli-Cussy had called in a favor 
and had had the file shredded 
accidently-on-purpose). Under 
these conditions, with both of us 
so clearly articulate, well- 
scrubbed, and gainfully employed 
members of the Master Race, the 
interview was scarcely more than 
a formality. The examiner shook 
my hand and welcomed me to the 
United States. 

Not too long after that I came 
home unexpectedly early one af- 
ternoon to find Alison being bug- 
gered in our bed by one of the 
actor's buddies. This solidified my 
resolve to extricate myself as soon 
as possible and give myself over to 
Morgan and True Love. But I 
didn't dare pack my toothbrush, 
Goethe's Selected Works, and 
leather jockstrap until I got my 
Green Card. For all I knew they 
had found my old dossier again 
and determined to come get me at 
the earliest opportunity. I had to 
stay put with my lawfully wedded 
wife. Understandably, Morgan got 
tired of waiting and went off to 
Labor History grad school in Bos- 
ton. Even more ominous, before 
she left she had met a handsome 
and charismatic young revolution- 
ary, closer to her age than mine, 
and had taken quite a shine to 
him— while he had, with the pain- 
ful obviousness of youth, fallen as 
hard for her as I did. We detested 
each other: if looks could kill, we 
would both have been shrink- 
wrapped in styrofoam trays. 

At last the little plastic-coated, 
computer-coded card arrived in 
the mail. Terminally exasperated 
with Alison and frantic that I 
would lose Morgan, I moved out 
within a month. At this point, 
naturally, Alison decided that I 
was her One True Love. With my 
Smith & Wesson .38 she staged 
tearful suicide vigils which I was 
summoned to interrupt at all hours 

of the day and night. Then she 
threatened to turn me in to the 
INS and demanded hush money. 
In between these outbursts she 
radiated pheromones of such po- 
tency that (against what I laugh- 
ingly call my better judgement) I 
more than once succumbed to her 
undoubted if neurotic charms. But 
I didn't move back in: and one 
morning I came over to find her 
voluptuously damp and disheveled 
and the editor of a local up-market 
glossy scurrying around in the 
Pendleton bathrobe she had 
shoplifted for me last birthday. My 
services, it seemed, were no lon- 
ger required. 

Then the roof fell in. Back in 
Boston, Morgan had yielded to her 
ardent young admirer, who had 
moved out there to be with her. I 
tried everything I could to detach 
her from him — impassioned dec- 
larations by phone, sheafs of love 
poems, broken pleading — but af- 
ter much agonizing back-and-forth 
she decided to stay with him. I 
was heartbroken. But I had my 
little green Ticket to Opportunity. I 
was a Legal Permanent Resident 
of the United States, at liberty, 
equipped with a Master's degree, 
a suit, and a functioning set of 
glands and erogenous zones. Now 
let me tell you about my next two 
marriages. . . 

- Marinas Horn, as told to 
Louis Michaelson 




sunrise in order to present myself 
to J-Mar Biologicals the minute 
their doors opened at 7:30. By 
8:45 I walked out with $10.00 in 
my wallet and a hole in my arm 
inside my elbow. Having done 
my duty to my family, I stopped 
to have $3.00 of gas put in the 
car. I stared at the ten-dollar bill 
in my hand, as if my gaze could 
somehow penetrate its mysteries. 
The bill was soft, velvety and 
limp. I wanted to fathom its 
depths and capture some elusive 
meaning from its inscrutable 
surface, since I had so blatantly 
exchanged something of myself 
for it; so soon to be handed over 
and lesser change to replace its 
meager measure. 

So here we are. Within the first day, 
Lindsay dubbed this town "Spring-a- 
leak-field, Oregon" and I am not only 
inclined to agree, I have championed 
the name. Springfield is the poor, 
shirt-tail relation to its hip and educated 
older cousin, Eugene, just minutes away 
across the (what rhymes with dammit? 
Willamette!) river. Eugene is a college 
town full of lushly shaded streets lined 
with sleepy little woodframe houses. 
Springfield is an industrial bedroom, 
full of unemployed loggers on welfare; 
the dumping ground for those who 
couldn't cut higher education. 

Your eyes and nose cannot help but 
notice the Weyerhauser factory as you 
pass directly by it on the road to our 
rented duplex. (Try to imagine what it 
would smell like if pine trees could fart.) 
Not to worry, this olfactory nuisance is 
only bothersome when the wind is 
blowing south, which so far seems to be 
a very equitable 25 percent of the time, 
or less. Sadly, I have to admit that I've 
become accustomed to it, to the point 
that I simply "notice" the smell, and then 
tune it out. 

In spite of having been here for over a 
month, I seem to have a last, inner 
resistance to settling in this exact place. 

In spite of the 22-foot truck and its 
two- ton overweight load of our Accum- 
ulated Things being emptied completely 
at our doorstep (make no mistake: we 
and Our Stuff aren't going anyplace else 
anytime soon), I've been plagued by a 
feeling— a nagging, irrational, un- 
named, quasi- anxiety— that our life 
here is somehow "temporary." In spite of 
all the evidence to the contrary, I have 
held out inside my innermost heart that 
this duplex (with its avocado appliances, 
matted carpet, pitted linoleum, bath- 
room door hung backwards, huge 
though harmless two and a half spi- 
ders. ... I could go on), that this job of 
Lindsay's (my intelligent, witty, talent- 
ed husband pumping gas), that this 
financial wreck is really our life. We are 
still living suitcase-style three months 
after abandoning our tenuous toe-hold 
on normality in Los Angeles. 

They didn't say this, exactly, but that's 
what they meant, and I don't stick 
around where I'm not wanted. They'd 
have one helluva lawsuit on their hands 
were it not for one very fatal mistake I 
made just before leaving to give birth. 
Thus am I repaid for all my dedication. 

a hole in my soul; a cavernous maw 
opening wider and wider; an expand- 
ing, terrifying emptiness. I turned the 
TV and VCR off, unable to continue 

Today, after living in this duplex for 
six weeks, I promised Lindsay that 
while he is gone doing laundry and 
donating plasma on his day off that I 
would put all the clothes away, so that 
when he returns home with the piles of 
clean clothes we can put those away too. 
I promised, but it feels empty, like I'm 
trying to force myself into admitting 
something I haven't conceptually 
grasped, even now. 

At first, I found I was reluctant to 
admit that Lindsay and I are donating 
plasma to put food on the table. This is 
something winos do to buy their next 
bottle, not middle-class Mormon prin- 
cesses who grew up with a washer and 
dryer in the basement and shoes from 
J.C. Penney. Still, my mother didn't 
sound surprised or shocked at all when I 
mentioned this to her, although this 
could have been studied nonchalance on 
her part. 

I expect I would feel insufferably 
noble about my bi-weekly donations. 







"[Selling plasma] is 
something winos do to buy their 
next bottle, not middle-class Mormon princesses 
who grew up with a washer and dryer in the base- 
ment and shoes from J.C. Penney." 






(for example, staying on the phone long 
distance for two hours while enduring 
first stage labor up to just before 

didn't honestly have the guts to leave a 
colicky 8-week old infant with Lindsay 
and try to keep up my supply of breast 
milk while working ten- hour days and 
attempting to do the work of two or 
three people and failing dismally. Still, 
when I turned on PBS that evening to 
watch "The Computer, the KGB, and 
Me" and saw all those ten- inch magnetic 
tape reels and printers and CRTs, I felt 

were they not dictated by sheer financial 
necessity. My first year in college I 
participated in a Red Cross blood drive. 
The nurse had to wiggle this HUGE 
needle around in my arm for a couple 
YEARS before my blood would flow. 
NO FUN. In spite of many opportuni- 
ties over the years, particularly at sci- 
ence fiction conventions, I have never 
offered myself up for that sort of 
experience again. (Can anyone blame 
me?) Until now, that is. When I was 
pregnant with my firstborn, the obste- 
trician's nurse could not get any sort of 
blood sample, let alone the three and a half 


vials they wanted. She stuck me at least 
five times with NO RESULTS before 
she gave up and called in the doctor, 
who stuck the side of my wrist, over my 
thumb. It was so sore that no one could 
take even the slightest hold of that wrist 
for three weeks. (I have never felt so 
completely manhandled and mistreated 
by the medical establishment as I felt 
from that office visit. There's just noth- 
ing to equal the experience of meeting 
for the first time the person in whose 
hands you will place your life and life of 
our baby after freezing your butt off for 
twenty minutes completely naked under 
nothing but a crummy sheet.) 

Since that time my experience has 
given me cause to believe those techni- 
cians were simply somewhat inept and 
doubtless inexperienced. Lab techni- 
cians who stick people all day long for a 
living generally know what they're do- 

Notwithstanding, on my first visit to 
J-Mar the guy next to me had a very 
bad experience (complete with several 
exclamations of pain and blood on the 
armrest) and the technician had to call 
over the (obvious) expert of their group. 
She had gone too far and had punctured 
his muscle tissue. I kept my eyes on her 
the first time she stuck me, but it was 
prest-bingo and she said "Good Flow." 
So far I've had no repeat of my college 
freshman experience. Luckily, on my 
first visit I had the "expert," and the man 
next to me went through this trauma 
after I was already hooked and going 
(not that even what I saw and heard 
would have deterred me that first time). 
Just yesterday Lindsay had a painful 
experience similar to my unfortunate 
first-time neighbor. He really earned 
that bonus, as I suppose I will take my 
lumps too, at some point. 

Let no one mistake: there is not the 
slightest thing generous about this. It is 
a purely selfish act and my conscience is 
assuaged only by the knowledge that 
J-Mar is obviously making money off 
my body's ability to reproduce plasma, 
and the plasma I "donate" is clean and 
untainted by HIV or other infections. 
I'm sure they lose a lot of money from 
first-time donors who are dishonest and 
subsequently rejected, not to mention 
those donors who are initially false- 
negative and who are — eventually (we 
hope!) — caught through random test- 
ing. So at the very least I do get to be 
unabashedly honest as I respond to the 
same old questions every time, again 
and again. And it's not such a god-awful 

way to spend an hour or so. The 
technicians are very friendly and I get to 
read without interruption. 

I must confess the first several visits I 
found the sight of multiple reclining 
bodies hooked up to machines some- 
what comical, reminding me of the 
movie A Boy and His Dog ("What God 
has joined let no man put asunder"). But 
just like the acrid stench from the local 
paper factory, I've become accustomed 
to the sight and now I don't find 
anything particularly odd, ironical, or 
otherwise notable about it, though I 
keep looking for the hidden meaning, as 
if it has only temporarily gone under- 
cover and will re-emerge if I just stare 
long enough without blinking. 

So here we are. We are surviving (just 
barely) and my self-esteem is slowly on 
the mend. I still have mixed feelings 
about being a plasma donor. There's a 
sense of helplessness that flows out from 
my soul like water when I look at a pile 
of laundry in the corner. At $1.50 a 
load, it piles up faster than J-Mar can 
pay for it. Spend an hour or so hooked 
up to a machine, put a few dollars of gas 
in the car, buy a couple cans of tuna, a 
couple gallons of milk, do a load of 
diapers, a load of jeans, and then you're 
broke again. Lindsay got paid, and I 
have a wish list that includes baby 
powder, light-bulbs, and shoelaces. . . . 

NEVERTHELESS: in spite of every- 
thing ... or maybe because of every- 
thing. . .oh what the hell. I think I will 
put those clothes away into drawers 
today, after all. 

', ?.fmctH 



It started off badly. A painful stick 
and not a very good flow. Blood clots in 
the tubes. High pressure on the return 
cycle. Bruising of surrounding tissues. 
Burning sensation at the lightest touch. 
Bleeding under the skin: Hematoma. 
Give up on that one. Switch to other arm. 
More comfortable but needle clotted in 
short order. Try again a half-inch lower 
down on the vein. More bruising. Poor 
flow. Hematoma. If the red blood cells 
are not returned, donation is halted for 
eight weeks. I submit to one last stick, to 
get the red blood cells back. Manager 
uses smaller size vein on first arm. We 
mutually agree to a slow return due to 
the size of the vein. It works, with no 
damage to vein or surrounding tissues. 

Units donated equals 500 of 850. 

I get paid, but I can't donate again 
until the bruise is three inches from the 
"venal puncture site." Both my arms are 
screwed up. Lindsay still has one good 
arm. Tough times are ahead unless the 
computer support position from A-1 
Employment Service comes through. 

I can't wait to get home and put ice on 
my wounds and generally fall apart. Both 
arms are VERY SORE. I am shaken by 
the experience. I feel small, vulnerable, 
fragile, and injured; betrayed by my 
own body. My confidence is quivering 
in the corner. I have curled up inside 
myself, and I long to curl up on my bed 
and close my eyes and sleep. 

— Fajie Manning 


LJ — \A 



Mississippi, Elvis's hometown, and, like Elvis, he 
was tired of being poor. He became an ordained 
Baptist preacher, not because his faith was deep, 
but because he had the gift of gab and evangelism 
was one of the few ways poor white southern boys 
could win friends, or at least influence people. But 
after a scandal involving a teenage girl, my father, 
now married to my mother, cast about for far-away 
places in which to test his fortune. 

No Es Mi Culpa 

First stop in my parents' neocolonial adventure 
was San Juan, Puerto Rico. My father soon found 
that he despised Puerto Ricans, who, he main- 
tained, were feckless, irresponsible and undigni- 
fied. He used one phrase to ridicule the Puerto 
Rican "mentality": 'Wo es mi culpa,'' it's not my fault. 
He would say it in a whiny voice, with a supposedly 
Puerto Rican look of cowering defiance in his eye. 
He grudgingly allowed that this "mentality" might 
be connected with Puerto Rico's slavish political 
status as a "possession" of the United States; but 
whatever the cause, he wanted to get away from the 

He looked for a proud and independent Latin 
American country, and came up with Argentina, a 
prosperous, big country of rugged gauchos run by 
the unconventional dictator Peron, who had taunted 
the U.S. by flirting with European fascism. Never 
mind that Argentina was virtually owned by the 
Swift- Armour meat packing company; it was more 
its own country than Puerto Rico. 

My dad got a job with, surprise, Swift-Armour, 
and for two years he oversaw stunnings, eviscera- 
tions, splittings, shroudings, curings and other 
aspects of the meat business. The political situation 

went from weird to brutal. An Argentine colleague 
on the train to Rosario dropped a disparaging 
remark about Peron, and was invited to another car 
by a couple of eavesdropping thugs and beaten half 
to death with rubber truncheons. No one came to 
the man's defense. Most Argentines, said my 
father, just want to eat their red meat, savor their 
red wine, and ignore the red blood flowing in their 

Peron was eventually overthrown in a bloody 
coup and fled to a gunboat anchored in the La 
Plata. My brother was born in this nervous week, 
and the hair-raising, curfew-defying trip to the 
hospital gave my parents second thoughts about 
raising a family in this volatile land. 

After a brief return to Puerto Rico, where I was 
born and my father discovered that the Puerto 
Ricans hadn't changed, we were off to a country 
whose government was stable — and no longer as 
anti- American as it once had been— and whose 
economic growth was phenomenal: Mexico. 

Host Country 

Mexico City, then as now, was the center of the 
country, so it was natural that we should settle 
there. (In 1957 it was not yet the overpopulated, 
polluted miasma it is today.) We lived on a tiny 
ranch south of the city, and we four children were 
enrolled in the American School. 

The American School was presided over by a 
mysterious, never-seen superintendent named Dr. 
Patterson. Our school, he wrote in the First 
Handbook of Overseas Schools, was established to 


What impressed 
us most about this weird 
country were the smells, the packaging, 
and the vast numbers of police. 


provide "broad, bilingual educational 
programs which may lead the students 
into business and commercial activities 
meaningful to U.S. interests, both in the 
host country and in the U.S." In 1958, 
the school began to receive subsidies 
from the U.S. Department of State. 

The campus was incongruously lo- 
cated in the midst of the dusty slums of 
Tacubaya. At 2:30 in the afternoon, the 
huge iron gates would creaik open and 
our schoolbus, one of 23 lined up in 
martial formation, would roll down the 
steep concrete ramp between fortress 
walls and into the vast, poor city. 

That urban Third World landscape 
became familiar over the years, yet 
remained hopelessly alien. The dramas 
without took place as if in slow-motion: 
two vehicles crumpled at an intersec- 
tion, hugging each other like a pair of 
prehistoric crustaceans in mid-battle, 
their occupants limping from the scene 
to avoid the police and the shakedown; 
the slum dweller on the high-tension 
pole, who in his illegal attempt to tap 
electricity, falls in a ball of flame. Even 
the jeering, cudgel-toting students on 
the prowl for schoolbuses defying the 
general student strike (like ours) seemed 

The American School boasted about 
2,000 students, evenly divided between 
middle-class or bourgeois Mexicans and 
North Americans. In elementary school 
the two nationalities mixed happily, 
playing soccer together and trading 
Sputnik and Gemini cards (these cards 
appeared in loaves of Bimbo bread, the 
Mexican equivalent of Wonder, which 
middle-class Mexicans trained them- 
selves to prefer over the lowly tortilla). 

By high school, however, Mexicans 
and Americans became hopelessly div- 
ided along national lines. Many Ameri- 
can boys, offspring of CIA agents and of 
the technocrats sent by U.S. corpora- 
tions, were keen on technology and 
gadgetry, whereas most Mexican boys, 
looking forward to careers as idle bu- 
reaucrats and having an aristocratic 
disdain for practical knowledge, traded 
in their interest in such matters with 
their last Sputnik card. American girls, 
daughters of bold mothers in a foreign 
land, became tomboys, whereas their 
Mexican counterparts strove to become 
dainty senoritas with a view to mother- 
hood— "walking wombs" in the Ameri- 
can girls' contemptuous words. 

Though we weren't yet in high school, 
my brother and I sensed our shortcom- 
ings in the area of technical expertise. 

and therefore as Americans. Our father 
was anything but practical; he could 
rarely remember the direction in which 
a screw tightens. Fearing we would get 
him involved in some frustrating me- 
chanical project, he did not encourage 
our interest in such things. Whereas our 
gringo friends had chemistry sets, so- 
phisticated toy weaponry and go-carts, 
we had pet chickens and a couple of 
pigs. Our gringo friends built bombs 
(sometimes with unfortunate results), 
tinkered with engines, and knew things 
like exactly how many grams of botulin 

made of solid gold. We were gringos 
with guns and golden bullets. 

Our father was making good money 
shipping fertile eggs from Arkansas, 
hatching them in his hatchery and 
growing them into broilers. Our lifestyle 
was one of servants, heated swimming 
pools and trips to coastal resorts, but 
dad, meanwhile, was going loopy under 
the pressure and the success: boozing 
heavily, brawling, taking my brother 
and me on wild car trips through 
Mexico, getting the maids pregnant. 
Finally, in the dead of night in January, 
1968, our mother put herself and her 
brood on a secret flight to California. 

Suddenly we were strangers in a 
strange land, and poor to boot. 

SENATOR, n. A millionaire or, if newly 
elected, about to become one. 

it would take to wipe out everybody on 
earth. Even our Mexican friends were 
sometimes amazed at our lack of famili- 
arity with things modern, such as tele- 
vision and movies. Television reception 
was poor on our ranch, and our parents 
hardly ever took us to movies; so when 
our Mexican friends took us there, they 
laughed at how we kept our unblinking 
eyes riveted to the screen throughout the 
whole show. 

Our big technological break came 
when we were eleven and twelve years 
old, when our father finally relented and 
we were given a couple of Daisy BB 
guns for Christmas. By this time, our 
family had fled the big city for the more 
livable one of Cuernavaca, where my 
brother and I were enrolled in a tiny, 
very liberal "tutoring section." We 
prowled the outskirts of the town trying 
to slay small game and telling whomever 
would listen that those shiny BBs were 

^^^,i:i:£^ Gringolandia 

' On the lam from the raging patriarch, 

we hid out in motels throughout the 
i southwest U.S. Motels were our some- 
^ how fitting introduction to American 
f culture. (We had only been to the U.S. 
I once, for a very brief visit to Mississip- 
1 pi, many years earlier.) What impressed 
CT us most about this weird country were 
!- the smells, the packaging, and the vast 
</> numbers oi police. 

® The smell, the smell of Gringolandia, 
§ was what I can best describe as an odor 
of refined toxicity, a subtle chemical 
scent that permeated everything. Mexi- 
co had its share of toxic odors, to be 
sure, but these were coarse and blatant 
compared to the gringo ones, and 
specific to that factory or this canal. 
There were very few smells in the U.S. 
attributable to organic causes: you 
didn't find folks roasting corn in empty 
lots, filling the air with wood smoke and 
the fragrance of caramelizing sugars, or 
encounter the stink of roadkill. Just that 
incessant chemical smell, which seemed 
to reach its greatest intensity at those 
all-American sites, motels and malls. 

Packaging was truly fascinating. De- 
monstrating the gringos' neurotic fear of 
contamination, foods were packaged 
and repackaged down to their smallest 
single doses. It was amazing to behold 
those little aluminum jelly trays with 
their fancy lettering and their smidgeon 
of jelly inside. The food itself was 
generally pale and bland; Americans, 
we learned, had an aversion to spice, 
and to dark foods. 

The ubiquitous police, especially the 
California Highway Patrol, were in- 
credible robot-like creatures, very dif- 
ferent from the wretched Mexican traf- 
fic cops and, it would seem, eminently 


unbribable. We were sure these mon- 
sters would, as soon as they discovered 
our situation, deliver us back to our 
father, who would surely beat us all 
black and blue for having escaped. 

That is how we spent our first months 
in the U.S.A.: picking at the pale, 
chemical- smelling food in motel restau- 
rants, examining the tiny packages of 
jellies and sugar, watching for the 
police, and waiting for our dad to chill 
out so our mother could get back in 
touch with him and get us some money. 

Meanwhile, my father had blown his 
businesses in Mexico by stealing a large 
shipment of fertilized eggs and re-selling 
them back in the U.S. His Mexican 
partners put out a bulletin in the 
newspapers for his capture, but he 
absconded to the Caribbean to booze 
and whore it up. Eventually he would go 
to San Jose, Costa Rica, to try to 
become a leg-man for financier-crook 
Robert Vesco, who wouldn't have him, 
and then to Nicaragua, where he tried to 
drum up some beef export business with 
Anastasio Somoza, who liked to call 
Nicaragua "his ranch"; but there my dad 
witnessed a gunfight between the then- 
tiny Sandinistas and the Somocistas, 
and this scared him off. 

When my mother's funds ran out, she 
felt compelled to get in touch with 
him — she didn't know AFDC or other 
welfare existed, and heaven forbid any- 
one would tell her, so "shameful" was the 
dole held to be. He agreed to send 
money, as long as we moved to a 
suitably conservative town. It was 1968, 
and he was sure the hippies and the 
commies were taking over the country. 
California was out of the question. 
Finally he decided that Colorado 
Springs, with its heavy military influ- 
ence, would be all right. 

We Become Freaks 

By this time, the U.S. was beginning 

to freak us out. The totalitarian scale of 
things— the highways, the shopping 
centers, the miracle miles — was bizarre, 
as was the relentless homogeneity and 
uniformity of it all. (It seemed laughable 
that the American press criticized the 
communist countries for making every- 
thing "the same" when one medium- 
sized U.S. city could scarcely be differ- 
entiated from any other). The social 
atomism and the lack of solidarity in all 
that didn't involve commerce — the para- 
noid individuals holed up in their little 
houses were also disturbing. Here an 
angry man could be raging in the 
streets, and nobody would respond, just 
turn away. In Mexico he would always 
get a response: perhaps not always a 
kind one, maybe just a jeer, but at least 
a human reaction. Mexico had poverty 
and corruption, to be sure, but there 
was something organically human about 
it. You could get stabbed, but at least 
you knew it was an enemy who did it. 

Colorado Springs boasted the Air 
Force Academy, a huge army base, and 
a principal center for NORAD (North 
American Air Defense Command), a 
Strangelovian command post deep in 
the heart of Cheyenne Mountain. 

My brother and I were enrolled in 
Cheyenne Mountain Junior High, a 
bunker-like public school with thick 
concrete walls and a few suspicious slits 
for windows. Of the 500 students there 
was one black and one Hispanic. It 
made the American School, not to 
mention the little school we had attend- 
ed in Cuernavaca, seem like Summer- 

It was one thing to have had a few 
gringo friends, as my brother and I had 
in Mexico, whose fathers were U.S. 
spies; it was quite another to be thrown 
among 500 offspring of the most paran- 
oid and xenophobic military personnel 
this country is capable of producing. 

TWISTED IMAQE -^ Ace Backwords ®i«<i 

The spy progeny had been necessarily 
cosmopolitan; but the Cheyenne 
Mountain brats were racists and xeno- 
phobes. We were immediately targeted 
as some kind of exotic spies, very 
strange, very un-American. 

Perhaps I put too much of the blame 
on our peers. Most loathesome about 
the place was the fascistic atmosphere 
created by the administrators and some 
teachers, who attempted to regulate 
their prisoners' every move. Our "his- 
tory" teacher, perhaps the most reac- 
tionary, spent most of the time showing 
us anti-Chinese propaganda films and 
reading Ayn Rand. When Nixon asked 
his "silent majority" to turn on their 
headlights by day to show support for 
his bombing of Vietnam, the cars enter- 
ing the school parking lot looked like 
they were going to a goddamned funer- 

We had to fight back. Weary of the 
principal's creepy scrutiny of his hair 
length (the hair could only touch the 
collar, not go below it), my brother 
shaved his head, which only caused 
more commotion. I grew marijuana and 
distributed it among our small group of 
malcontents. We wore black arm bands 
after the shootings at Kent State, and 
were suspended. We read such lumin- 
aries as Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoff- 
man and Eldridge Cleaver. 

Ironically- by driving us off to the 
intolerant, bigoted, jingoistic heartland 
of America our father turned us into the 
hippie-freak-commies he so abhorred. 
Had we stayed in Mexico, we may have 
become bourgeois "juniors" with inher- 
ited business interests in Latin America, 
always thinking of the U.S. as the seat of 
world civilization. Instead, being so 
rudely exposed to the reality of Ameri- 
can society, we came to recognize the 
United States as a seat of world barbar- 

— Salvador Ferret 





80% Of THIS C0UNr/?y ^ClTi7£NSHlP 

aW GEE lY EXflC-fLV/.' IVE'RE > 



WELL THAT!S a load off MV MiND 


OUTSIDE: A Manifesto For Escape by 

Andrei Codrescu. Addison-Wesley, 1990. 

The metaphysic of exile views the human 
condition as a series of tragic events. There 
was a Fall, and people were in exile. This 
Fall, repeated by every religion and mythology 
on earth, proves that we began our existence on 
earth as an exile. Leaving the womb com- 
pounds the original Fall with a new sense of 
estrangement. Life consists, it seems, in a 
variety of ways of not being at home. 
Consciousness itself is in exile from biology. 
History is an exile from paradise. A "home" as 
such can exist only in a temporal perspective, 
which is illusory and limited to the indulgence 
of history. History is rarely indulgent. It 
ruthlessly displaces people and will continue to 
do so. 

— Andrei Codrescu 



The shortest poem and longest story 
is the cartographer of my identity and its 
shifting "homeland." Here lies my native 
identity, ripe with spaces, silences, and 
meaning inside that quixotic anti- 
identity I most identify with. Eternal 
emigre, born an Outsider. Now I've 
arrived as a permanent refugee in a 
dense global resettlement city of myths 
realized: San Francisco, California, 

Here, in infancy, are the beginnings 
of post-nationalistic, urban tribes. They 
include Processed World and several other 
political/artistic/intellectual/social clans 
I'm part of. Together we constitute an 
anti-state. A state of psychogeographi- 
c£il inversion unique to modern aliena- 
tion: a "nation" of aliens. 

Many of us (and some of my worldly 
inner selves) are "true aliens." Like most 
Americans, my ancestral cuisinart mix- 
es a number of alien blood- nations: 
Welsh, Scottish, Irish, and Polish with 
Cherokee and Choctaw native Ameri- 
can. Most of my friends (and identities) 
are, more powerfully, metaphorical al- 
iens. We forge our identity and home- 
land in a poetic furnace which draws 

heat less from ethnicity or geography 
and more from free will, imagination, 
and resistance. Whether metaphorically 
or literally foreign, we are the black 
sheep born with teeth and tearing at the 
urban fray. I am the bundle of contra- 
dictions who is both an independent cuss 
and inextricably bound together with a 
considerable herd of cultural desperados 
who have flocked to San Francisco. 

One ally is Andrei Codrescu, a 1960s 
transplanted Romanian poet-in-exile, 
who now lives in New Orleans. His 
book The Disappearance of the Outside 
spurred me to consider my own story as 
an exile. 

After spending the first 18 years of my 
life near an isolated timber town in the 
hinterlands of Washington state, my 
initiation into adulthood was to fly 
away. Since then I've never stopped, 
living and travelling for extended peri- 
ods all across America, Africa, New 
Zealand & Australia, and Eastern Eu- 


Like most Americans my adult life 
has been a series of moves. In each place 
I've quickly felt stuck, psychically vi- 
olated by the prevailing attitudes and 
concerns, and then felt compelled to 
move on. Unlike most Americans I've 
never thought this nation was the best 
the world could offer. I love its freedoms 
and forwardness, but despise its de- 
vouring of planetary resources and all 
culture alien to the commodity, televi- 
sion, and western "progress." It is 
strange fruit to be born American, live 
in a family that believes in America, but 
always identify yourself as outside the 
American way. Even as a young boy I 
never understood the big deal: all the 
rah rahs. We're #1, Let's Kick Butt! It 
seems so stupid, even pitiful. America's 
greatness through individual liberties, 
cultural diversity, and material afflu- 
ence is, at the very best, counter- 
balanced by its loss of tradition and 
community, psychic and spiritual pov- 
erty, and preeminence in global exploi- 
tation. Yet I always feel compelled to 
return even though I could choose not to. 

My interest here is why I and so 
many like me have heeded the call of the 
western wanderer. How has my identity 
as outcast (and being "cast out" largely 
by my own desires) served me? And 

how has it hindered me? 

The Disappearance of the Outside illu- 
minates these questions and more: here 
is the peculiar situation of the exiled 
writer, and the poet's role in creating 
social disruption; the domination of 
machines and mechanical processes over 
people, and the concomitant loss of the 
organic; as well as the replacement of 
the word (meaning) by the mass medi- 
ated electronic image (simulation) as the 
dominant representation of social reali- 
ty. The focus of this review is the issue 
of exile and social identity. 

Codrescu opens Disappearance with his 
return to the ruins of his Romanian 
hometown, Sibiu, just after the fall of 
the vicious Ceaucescu regime. It is New 
Year's Eve — before the onslaught of the 
1990s — amidst an atmosphere of wide- 
spread optimism. He expresses his fore- 
boding that even as the people of 
Eastern Europe "have come Outside at 
long last after painful dark decades in 
the repressive interiors of police states" 
joining the glittery new (old) world odor 
will very quickly leave an empty, rotten 
aftertaste. The book revolves around 
such Inside vs. Outside tensions. Co- 
drescu integrates cultural/political forces 
with personal/existential concerns. To- 
gether, through the imagination they 
inform our ability, as aliens, to stay vital 

STUPIDITY, n. An invaluable com- 
modity. The grease which lubricates 
the wheels of American commerce, 
politics and religion 


inside an Insane Outer Reality east and 

Although the east/west distinction is 
rapidly becoming obsolete, such divi- 
sion shaped Codrescu's adult life from 
the time he fled Romania in 1966 at age 
19. He landed in America during per- 
haps its most intoxicating period of 
freedom. Swept up by its libertarian 
spirit he failed to notice "at the time that 
exile was a temporary religion in Amer- 
ica." A religion rather more constant 
than transient. America is a nation state 
founded by the excluded. It "modernized" 
through a Civil War whose moral 
base sought to include the excluded. 
Despite great efforts to revive the nation 
god, it is today's metaphorical exiles that 
may push the absurdly gigantic United 
States to emulate the rapid collapse of 
the Soviet empire. A disintegration that 
may well be sooner and quicker than we 
now imagine. 



Codrescu experienced little of the 
inner pain and nostalgia that most have 
when cut off from their native land. 
Instead he identifies with a larger, 
global community while realizing: "I 
was in love with the myth of exile and I 
was disappointed with its sudden reces- 
sion in the 1970s. About history I did 
not feel one way or another and this put 
me, I guess, in exile from my fellow 
exiles." This changed considerably 
when later, "My exile appeared to me, 
for the first time, in a historical light. 
Times of great freedom breed metaphorical 
exiles while times of repression breed literal 
exiles. I had been granted a temporary 
reprieve from the reality of my exile by 
the ascendance of the myth. This con- 
tact with reality did not change my 
belief in the therapeutic value of my 


Keeping Democracy in the Right Hands. 

wandering. Metaphorical exiles who 
shed their allegiance to the myth of exile 
also forfeit their claim to poetry. This is 
a tragic position because they will never 
be natives again either: the prodigal son 
is always an oddity." (emphasis added) 

Codrescu stresses the need to claim 
myths and "metaphors that matter." An 
example is Milan Kundera's use of 
"laughter and forgetting" which he sees 
as "a phenomenal critique of memory." 
He notes that Kundera "pointed to the 
exact place in his memory where the 
generative, creative urge is located, thus 
freeing himself (and us) ..." This, Co- 
drescu claims, is crucial particularly for 
those in exile. When he went into literal 
exile, "Kundera had to remake himself 
in order to continue. In order to write he 
had to remember, but in order to be he 
had to forget. What to forget and what 
to remember? It is a tension peculiar to 
exile but it has vast importance beyond 
it. In the West we are faced with the 
catastrophic loss of memory brought 
about by industreality. We are com- 
pelled to forget even the immediate past 
by the collage style of the mass media. 
Living in a continual forgetting (an 
active act), we can only face forward, in 
a kind of parody of the Communist goal 
which always bids the masses to step 
"forward." "Progress is the act of forget- 

Codrescu maintains a simultaneous 
belief in and critical distance from the 
mythic/metaphorical mode of truth. He 
understands western culture's conscious 
attachment to the god of objective facts 
results in an even more powerful un- 
conscious appropriation of myth. Com- 
mon myths congealing our culture of 
"objectivity" are faith in "progress," 
salvation through technology, belief in 
national, racial, or ethnic superiority, 
the military/ macho salute of the Rambo 
identity, and the social necessity of 
strong authority figures. They feed a 
common misuse of myth (one which 
applies to desirable myths as well): the 
abdication of personal responsibility to 
"larger forces" beyond us. Today the 
political and artistic imperative is to 
reverse this process by making new 
myths (that matter) collectively consci- 

To that end, Codrescu advocates a 
monkey wrenching of the dominant 
stories shaping us today. "We must 
sabotage both the sentimental story that 
ends in God and the machine story that 
ends in the tool. In order to do that, we 
all of us have to become poets. But we 
must become poets quickly, while it is 

still possible to speak. Before the vacu- 
um of the mass sucks in the words 

We need to become saboteurs of 
history by re-ordering the very atoms of 
public thought and discourse to illumi- 
nate the facts in myth, and myths in fact. 
This requires turning language itself 
inside out. Such a juggling act involves 
more than simply being a poet. It also 
means dancing on and over the edges of 
today's global high wire. We are en- 
couraged to become "saboteur, fool for 
health, and schizo- activist all at once." 

Codrescu locates the proper "home" 
for the "schizo-activist" at the interplay 
of myth and fact in the arena of politics 
and art. It's not just a matter of sanity 
within an insane world or survival 
amidst war and pollution, but simply 
making life worth living. 

Schizo-activism is one of those word 
-roles which is both specific and ambig- 
uous. It fits me like a glove. I'm often 
sanest when the world around me is 
craziest; most insane when swaddled by 
the entropy of normalcy. Schizo- 
activism is the one word job description 
for me and my tribe of post-national 

We urban love warriors work over- 
time to eliminate our jobs. We don't 
believe in missionary work. Indeed, 
other than military huns, missionaries 
have been the most prolific mass mur- 
ders in human history. The urban love 
warrior's calling is the education of 
desire. We want excesses of personal 
indulgence and global justice. The poli- 
tics of change must drink deeply from 
the well of eros and art, not the other 
way around. 

Our friend and fellow schizo-activist 
Andrei Codrescu has a unique and 
comic view of the use (and abuse) of 
artists from the Outside. When inter- 
viewed by D.S. Black by telephone in 
January on a radio call-in show, Co- 
drescu shared his recent impressions of 
the U.S., having driven across the 
country in a Cadillac. 

"I just see a tremendous amount of experi- 
ment and craziness. Most Americans that I 
talked to on this trip are something I call 
zawats, a word I hope to put in circulation 
very soon, which is that they're simply crazy. 
Under the exterior of a normal person — if you 
scratch the surface just a little bit, the strangest 
ideas come out. 

"They are ideas that have and will have an 
effect on the practical world, whether they are 
stockbrokers in Chicago working in the pit 
using their mystical notions to buy and sell, or 
whether they're part of a religious community 


in upstate NY, they believe in things which 
would not seem reasonable to anyone who has 
experienced a conversion to the Enlightenment, 
I think. There are currents in American life 
that are here that have escaped the Enlighten- 
ment, and they've continued a life that is quite 
apart from a reasonable understanding of things. " 

In The Disappearance of the Outside 
Codrescu wrote that "Western artists are 
not taking Icindly to this invasion by 
exiles. As peripheral people in charge of 
shoveling art into the maw of the center, 
they demand of these exiles who are 
(clearly) the peripherals of the periphery 
to make sense of their freedom. The 
cultural slum raises defenses against the 
culturally homeless because it is asked to 
provide a creative space that it does not 
possess and has no idea how to take back 
from the electronic media. The exiles do 
know how, and know how through their 
exile, which is a fundamental loss of all 
centers, private and public." 

The loss of center . . . oh, do I know 
this place. We urban love warriors 
possess intimate knowledge of loss. But 
what makes us different, what funda- 
mentally exiles us, is our meditation on 
taking back. Taking back meaning 
while subverting the power of simulated 
image. Taking back direct contact and 
sabotaging spectating entertainments. 
Taking back community and overcom- 
ing our isolation. Most significantly, 
overturning the "objectivity" of this 
constructed society by taking back our 
own living imagination. Today that is 
the definition of exile and the practice of 
the urban love warrior. 



Strange Weather: Culture, Science, and 
Technology in the Age of Limits by Andrew 
Ross (Verso: London 1991) 

Questioning Technology: Tool, Toy or 
Tyrant.'', edited by John Zerzan and 
Alice Carnes (New Society Publishers: 
Philadelphia 1991, originally published 
in England by Freedom Press) 

Processed World has been labeled both 
"anti- technology" and "pro- technology" 
by ideologues on either end of that 
so-called debate. But the magazine, per 
se, has never taken a stand either way. 
Processed Worlds contributors have al- 

Ray Beldner's dehumanizing office scenario literalizes, with live pigeons, the timeless 
"dumped on" position of the employee. (Glen Heifand, sf Weekly) 

ways been deeply critical of the social 
processes in which specific technologies 
evolve, but haven't espoused a general 
position on Technology, largely because 
it's such an impossible category to 
adequately define. 

Over the past two decades a broad 
range of critical technology texts has 
emerged, many of which have been 
reviewed in earlier issues of Processed 
World. Two books published in the past 
year offer opposite approaches. 

In Strange Weather Andrew Ross de- 
tails both contemporary and historic 
subcultures which formed in response to 
the promise and the inadequacy of 
Science. In his pursuit of a "green 
cultural criticism and politics" he finds 
encouraging elements in expressions as 
divergent as cyberpunk and New Age- 

ism. He appreciates the "powerful desire 
for self-respect, self-determination and 
Utopian experimentalism that lies be- 
hind the... New Age... inspired by a 
deep hunger for community." But he 
also subverts the New Age's reactionary 
embrace of austerity by usefully point- 
ing to the "difference between saying 
that limits ought to exist, and saying that 
we ought to recognize the existence of 
limits." Ross excels in showing how 
marginal, oppositional, and outlawed 
scientific subcultures have, by promot- 
ing their own counter-science and alter- 
native rationality, helped legitimize Big 
Science's more subtle claims to author- 
ity. The sweeping scope of his survey 
encapsulates futurology, global warm- 
ing, computer hacking, science fiction, 
environmental decay. Technocracy, 


virtual reality, and utopianism/dystopi- 
anism. Though he is surgically precise 
in his dissection of myths and underly- 
ing meanings, his attitude remains di- 
zdectical and hopeful. He wants: 

" . . .a hacker's knowledge capable of gener- 
ating new popular romances around the 
alternative uses of human ingenuity. . . we 
cannot afford to give up what techno- literacy 
we have in deference to the vulgar faith that 
tells us it is always acquired in complicity and 
is thus contaminated by the toxin of instru- 
mental rationality; or because we hear, often 
from the same quarters, that acquired techno- 
logical competence simply glorifies the inhu- 
man work ethic. Technoliteracy, for us, is the 
challenge to make a historical opportunity out 
of a historical necessity. " 

The "vulgar faith" he anonymously 
attacks here is found inserted among 
nearly three dozen excerpts of varying 
quality, assembled by John Zerzan and 
Alice Carnes under the title Questioning 
Technology: Tool, Toy or Tyrant? Zerzan, 
of course, has been flogging technology 
since the late 1970s, mostly in Fifth 
Estate, the Detroit tabloid dedicated 
increasingly over the years to the advo- 
cacy of neo-primitivism as the only way 
out. FEs George Bradford contributes 
an excerpt from his "We All Live in 
Bhopal" wherein he concludes: 

"The empire is collapsing. We must find 
our way back to the village, or as the North 
American natives said, 'back to the blanket, ' 
and we must do this not by trying to save an 
industrial civilization which is doomed, but in 
that renewal of life which must take place in its 
ruin. By throwing off this Modern Way of 
Life, we won't be 'giving things up' or 
sacrificing, but throwing off a terrible burden. 
Let us do so soon before we are crushed by it. " 

The structure of Questioning Technology 
is built around chapters headed by 
rhetorical questions such as "Was there a 
point in history when technology came 
to dominate the individual? How could 
this have happened?" and followed by a 
page or two of editorial introduction to 
the essays excerpted in response. 

The editors' basic contempt for the 
potential reader leads them to sarcasti- 
cally berate us already in the opening 
introduction: "You can close the book 
now. . . and go right on for the next 40 
years, smoking your way into the cancer 
ward. Or you can turn the page. . ." 
And by turning the pages we will learn 
to "wonder how our cultural experience 
has. . .deformed our human nature." 
This framing of the issue reveals the 
Jesuitical roots of Zerzan's anti- 
technologism. What is this unspoiled 
human nature, distinguished from our 

actual life on the planet (cultural experi- 
ence)? And, unfortunately, the snide 
tone of the introduction doesn't read as 
witty, but as transparently condescend- 
ing, which has been one of Zerzan's 
major tendencies for years. (He has 
always had really awful things to say 
about Processed World, of course.) 

Two pages later technology is unam- 
biguously defined for us: "[Technology] 
is an impulse, a thought form, before it 
has anything to do with tools. It grows 
from the desire to rival the awesome, 
unfathomable creativity of the earth. 
This is where domination of nature 
begins." Defining the birth of technolo- 
gy as a neo- Promethean desire to rival 
Mother Earth gives prehistoric gadget- 
eers and contemporary engineers too 
much philosophical credit! They pre- 
sent human creativity in all its myriad 
forms (good and bad) as essentially 
untrustworthy. Finally this approach 
leads to "know-nothingism," a refusal of 
knowledge which is thought to be mor- 
al\y impure, a state of mind which 
defends itself by wielding as an en- 
chanted talisman a completely desocial- 
ized, abstract concept of "nature." 

In Strange Weather, Andrew Ross ad- 
dresses this directly: 

"The construction of nature as a social 
vacuum distances us from any direct engage- 
ment with the actual social forces that 
command vast power in our everyday lives 
through their organization of technology and 
bureaucracy. One of the inevitable effects of this 
retreat is to entertain Arcadian fantasies of 
preindustrialist life resourcefully embellished 
with many of the philosophical contents of a 
postindustrialist wardrobe. " 

Questioning Technology is philosophical- 
ly based on just such Arcadian fantasies. 
In the terribly irritating, "hand-written" 
introduction. New Society Publishers' 
TL Hill explains why s/he decided to go 
through the entire book with his/her pen 
and insert brackets everytime words like 
"man" or "his" came up: 

"By adding a bit of hand work to this 
mass-produced item, we hope to humanize it 
just a little, and to enhance its challenge to 
rethink — and remake — our relationships with 
technology and with you, our community. " 

Of course this "hand work," like all 
the typeset bulk of the book, was done 
on the original and then printed in 
thousands of copies. Perhaps if TL Hill 
had actually written the introduction by 
hand into each copy the message would 
have had a bit more resonance. 

The impoverished imagination im- 
plied by this book's basic approach is 
laid out in the same opening comments: 

"Questioning Technology challenges us 
to re-engage our hearts and minds in the search 
for truly appropriate and accountable technolo- 
gies . . . sadly there are precious few models to 
guide us . . . Native, traditional and organic 
farmers may have the most to teach in the 
ongoing work of reconstituting technology in 
harmony with local communities and the 
earth. . . [which] demands an attentive 
awareness of the natural world, patience, a 
large dose of humility and a stringent account- 
ability to the land, to natural cycles, and to the 
larger human community. To be sure, there's 
plenty of room for ingenuity, but always 
within an explicitly cultural, human and 
natural— not merely an economic or technologi- 
cal—context. " 

This bucolic advice to learn from 
traditional and organic farmers may be 
sound for those in basically rural set- 
tings now, but it completely ignores the 
question that our collective relationship 
with technology really hinges on: what 
will happen to city life, where the vast 
majority of us live and work? Clearly a 
thorough- going decentralization and 
greenification of urban areas is in order, 
but I am not interested in being held 
"stringently accountable to the land or 
natural cycles." I like the idea of 
surviving as well as we humanly can 
storms, droughts and earthquakes. 
Moreover, what is this idea of "natural, 
human, cultural context" within which 
ingenuity must be kept, which is so 
separate from the "technological con- 
text?" Where is the line drawn exactly? 
Which side is the mouth harp on? 
Which side are you on? 

Zerzan's (and, presumably Games') 
proto- religious absolutism is starkly re- 
vealed in the essays selected to answer 
"What is the future of human culture 
with respect to technology? Is there a 
solution to the reality of being dimin- 
ished by high tech?" Sally Gearhart calls 
for the Jonestown solution taken to the 
planetary level in "An End to Technolo- 


"I find. . .an integrity. . . in. . .[human] 
species suicide. . . If some still ask "Why?" I 
suggest that the burden of proof has shifted, 
that in terms of our biosphere the question is, 
"Why not?" 

Boy, if this catches on, buy Kool-Aid 

The editors declare "the instrumental or 
utilitarian character of science and technology 
is a false notion; domination itself is found 
there. If this indictment is vast, so are the 
measures we must take to remove its applica- 
tion from a world we would like to save and 
savour. " 

Then T. Fulano in an excerpt from 


Fifth Estate contentedly predicts that 
"Jetliners fall, civilizations fall, this civiliza- 
tion will fall. . . and we will be inside, each 
one of us at our specially assigned porthole, 
going down for the last time, like dolls' heads 
encased in plexiglass. " 

The final section asks "Is technology 
"neutral"?" and offers a plethora of 
historical and documentary information 
to answer "no, of course not." John and 
Paula Zerzan look at the imposition of 
the factory system and the widespread 
violent working-class resistance. Jerry 
Mander argues for the elimination of 
television. Ian Reinecke looks cogently 
at the reality of contemporary workplace 
automation, and finally Jacques Ellul 
claims that technique has become truly 
autonomous and is itself the new arbiter 
of morality. The Zerzans' and Reinec- 
ke's pieces are both straight ahead 
descriptions, of historic resistance to 
proletarianization and the totalitarian 
nature of the modern workplace, re- 

Jerry Mander makes one of the 
underlying points of the collection when 
he glibly asserts that "the basic form of the 
institution and the technology determines its 
interaction with the world, the way it will be 
used, the kind of people who use it, and to 
what ends. " (emphasis added) I don't 
share, say, cyberpunk's enthusiasm for 
the liberatory possibilities of new tech- 
nology as employed by outlaw subcul- 
tures, but I really object to such an 
overly deterministic view of human 
ingenuity. Considering the complex 
relationships between media and con- 
sumers, the always contested construc- 
tion of meaning and shared cultural 
norms, there's always the possibility of 
creative appropriation and subversion 
by human intervention in any "domi- 
nant" process, industrial or cultural. If 
we don't believe in that, at least, then 
there's really no hope, and the suicidal 
views of our future cultural life may be a 
logical choice. 

Questioning Technology provides a valu- 
able service in assembling a large num- 
ber of excerpts from many texts, some 
welcome for their insight and facts, 
others as examples of various ideological 
stances, both pro- and con-. Writings 
by Lewis Mumford, Daniel Burnham, 
Langdon Winner and Herb Schiller all 
offer critiques similar to Processed Worlds, 
own. In fact, in spite of attempts to 
stack the deck in favor of the Humans- 
as-Plague point of view, the editors do 
graciously admit in the last sentence that 
the works they have excerpted do not 
"necessarily embody fundamentally 

The "superstar" of boxcar art, Herby was outed by 
the press in 1981 after his creator, Herbert Mayer, 
had anonymously drawn over 70,000 "sleeping 
Mexican" pictures over a span of 30 years. This 
popular logo was once used to identify a railroad 
safety program, and inspired a line of "Herby" 

negative assessments of technology." 

Andrew Ross addresses the abstract 
nature-ists, too, in his fascinating and 
witty discussion of the weather and 
global warming: 

"The crusade to claim the whole world as 
"free" for liberal capitalism is currently locked 
in step with the campaign to "free" the climate 
from human influence. . . Now that science 
has shown the clear impact of the "human 
fingerprint" on a global system so vast as 
atmospheric behavior, such a logic demands the 
more stable, guiding influence of the whole 
hand. . . Greater powers of regulatory control 
are thus claimed in the name of allowing the 
system to revert to its "natural" self- regulating 
economy. This is the contradictory form in 
which laissez-faire economics have been ad- 
vanced throughout modern capitalist history. 

"The Gaian thesis simply inverts the logic of 
human domination over the natural world: 
planetary management is seen not as an 
extension of human control, but as a process to 
which the fate of human is utterly subjugated. 
Under cover of the rhetoric of "biocentric 
equality" and the "balance of nature, " the logic 
of domination is held intact, and the social 

specificity of human life drops out of the 

"Like global models of corporate planetary 
management, which take the planet as an 
economic unit, Gaian philosophy demonstrates 
the danger of taking the planet as a zoological 
unit. In either case, humanity appears as a 
mythical species, stripped of all the rich 
specificity that differentiates human societies 
and communities, and oblivious to all the 
differences in race, gender, class, and nation- 
ality that serve to justify and police structures of 
human domination within and between these 
societies. In both instances, the questions 
raised by ecology can no longer be explained or 
answered by social theory or social action; they 
are resolved at the level of "resource manage- 
ment" by the logic of the multinational 
corporate state, or by the independent diktat of 
the "tough" planetary organism. The problem 
of global warming is no longer an arena for 
exposing the barbarism of social institutions. " 

Ross's final chapter on the weather, 
"The Drought This Time," is reason 
enough to read this book. He examines 
how weather reportage provides a met- 
aphorical language which "naturalizes" 
social relations. He ironically enthuses 
about the reassurance he gets as a 
weather addict to know that "the re- 
sponsible weather citizen's rights are 
only threatened with natural and not 
social erosion." 

If we accept the demonization of 
Technology as presented by Zerzan and 
Carnes, suicide is the way to go, since 
all attempts to redirect or reclaim tech- 
nological processes are already so con- 
taminated that they can only reproduce 
the same logic with the same dehuma- 
nizing results. Technologies are far from 
neutral but that does not make inani- 
mate objects the new subjects of history! 

Andrew Ross goes the opposite way. 
By insisting on situating specific tech- 
nologies within the specific social webs 
that have given rise to them, with their 
own contradictory and multifaceted his- 
tories, we are encouraged to see the 
ways in which individual and collective 
choices both produce and are produced by 
various technological choices. Wides- 
pread barbarism and hopeless despair 
does not change the fact that human 
ingenuity is in the driver's seat. The 
society in which our ingenuity functions 
today restrains, distorts, and usually 
defeats our creative capacities. But the 
machinery itself makes no decisions and 
only enforces certain human relations if 
we go on allowing that to be the case. 
The choices are, in fact, in our collective 

— Chris Carlsson 




they get excited, plunge their 
curious snouts into mounds of 
muddy slop, and run with the 
grace of an obese ex- athlete. I am 
not a pig. I wish I had the power 
to appear before a nationwide 
television audience and tell the 
nation, the world: I am not a pig. 
It is true that some of my co- 
workers whisper that I am a pig, 
yet I do not grunt. It is also true 
that I thrust my snout into 
mounds of slop, but it is never 
muddy slop. I work for the 
"people," and, in a sense, the 
people work for me. I make 
$60,000 a year, and the people 
pay every dollar, dime and nickel 
of it. Note that I said I make 
$60,000 a year; I did not say I 
earn that much. 

The taxpayers who give me a pay- 
check think poHticians write their own 
letters. They think the legislators they 
elect actually have the ability to use 
sesquipedalian words, conduct their 
own research, investigate a problem. 
Legislators are incapable of all of these 
things. I am the letter writer. 

I obtain the information. I make the 
phone calls. I am the mask legislators 
wear so they can get re-elected. It is my 
task to retain the almighty incumbents, 
so I must make them appear personable 
but at the same time unreachable. If a 
constituent wants an answer to a ques- 
tion and the answer to that question is 
simply "no," I could easily write them a 
clearly- stated three- sentence response 
and give them an honest answer. But 
this is not the essence of politics. 

The politician must not only appear 
informed and at least somewhat educat- 
ed, but also possibly omniscient, even 
omnipotent, so I compose two full pages 
of meaningless history, phrases of sym- 
pathy or empathy, hope- filled scenarios 
and godly ideals employing occasional 
adjectives, powerful verbs, and a varie- 
gated array of other writing tricks until 

finally — finally — I gently inform them 
that the answer to their question is "no." 
If the answer to their inquiry is "yes," 
only one full page of the prescribed fluff 
is required. Many times I wonder if 
politicians read my letters before they 
sign them. 

If a woman who failed her LVN exam 
complains to us that she was fired from 
her nursing position because she failed 
the test, I write to her that I feel the pain 
she feels, I understand her anguish and 
her frustration and even a little anger, 
and I wish she could continue her 
nursing career. In reality, she will have 
to re- take the exam when it is offered six 
months from now. In the meantime, she 
is unemployed. 

Of course, the legislator who signs 
this letter is officially the one who feels 
the pain, who knows the anguish and 
even a litde anger so that this sorry 
woman might be soothed enough to vote 
for him in November. Personally, I 
don't give a damn about her pain. 

One day I received a well-written 
letter from a prisoner who was an 
unfortunate bystander during a prison 
riot and suffered a fractured vertebra, a 
fractured nose and a concussion. I 
endured a fractured vertebra when I was 
young and it annoyed me when I felt his 
pain. I thought I had grown immune to 
the pain. I cannot comprehend how this 
prisoner had the strength to stand 
upright in a food line with these injuries, 
waiting minute after minute for his 
meal, while others jostled him from side 
to side. There was nothing I could do for 
the guy except urge him to visit the 
prison doctor. Pitiful aching bonepile. 

I place on our legislators the most 
erudite mask our office can offer. I don't 
need the skills of Locke, Rousseau, 
Aristotle, Plato or Montesquieu except 
when I quote them in one of my letters. 
All I need to support some patriotic 
political premise is a poignant quotation 
from Patton, Kennedy, Eisenhower, 
Churchill or one of the Roosevelts. 
People respect words they don't quite 
understand and quotations from famous 
individuals whose faces appear in their 
minds when they read the words. 

"You calm people down, make them 

feel certain you will be able to help 
them," a young employee said to me. "I 
wish I could write like that." 

"You will learn," I replied. "As the 
years go by you will learn that in almost 
all cases the best thing to say in your 
letter is absolutely nothing. You can 
hint that anything is possible; you can 
tell them that the most respected con- 
stituents are those who are mature 
enough to be patient; you can assure 
them that their opinions will be taken 
into account when committee meetings 
begin; you can graciously thank them 
for offering their opinion, because with- 
out it proper representation would not 
be possible and democracy would not 
flourish; you can assert that their views 
are quite interesting, and such an in- 
triguing, fresh approach that they may 
be related to the chairman of a certain 
committee who may even discuss the 
matter with the Majority Leader, the 
Speaker of the House or the President of 
the Senate. You can say all of these 
things, but you must say nothing." 

What this new employee doesn't know 
is that I don't actually write letters 
anymore. Today I merely re-use the 
letters I wrote 10 to 20 years ago. I can 
write to constituents that their ideas are 
unique and fresh, but the truth is that 
their opinions are old and tedious. So I 
keep in my files thousands of letters I 
have written and merely place the 
appropriate floppy disc in my personal 
computer and produce a letter on my 
laser printer. 

I have two major files, one for those 
who call themselves right-to-lifers and 
another for those who call themselves 
freedom- of- choicers. I consider all of 
these activists fabulously boring. They 
seem to thrive on tedium, so within each 
of these files I have developed sub- files. 
If a freedom-of-choicer wants to discuss 
the importance of certain court decisions 
and each of the trimesters, I pull out an 
appropriate trimester letter and print it 
in an instant. If I am bothered by a 
choicer who wants to dionysiacally dis- 
cuss the humiliating methods men have 
used to manipulate women from the 
time of Cicero to Ivanhoe and Ludwig 
van to Peter Pan, I retrieve the appro- 


priate women-who-have-been-ruled-by- 
men screed. If a woman wants to dis- 
cuss her personal life with me and 
generally feels sorry for herself, I pull 
from my file the suitable feeling-sorry- 
for-herself response. 

I wrote one letter which I send to 
energize outraged right-to-lifers — I de- 
scribe the crushed baby skulls of main- 
land China. If one of these easily- 
excited lifers wants to discuss Biblical 
passages, I retain various missives 
which quote this entertaining book — 
Old or New Testament — you want it, 

you got it. I have letters already pre- 
pared for socialists, gays, members of 
the KKK, members of gun clubs, 
neo-Nazis, constituents who suffer from 
triskaidekaphobia, any flotsam that 
wants to jaundice itself with some 
over-discussed topic. 

"I don't think you give yourself 
enough credit," this new employee said 
to me. "Those letters you showed me on 
the abortion issue, how can you tell me 
you said nothing?" 

"I said absolutely nothing." 

"But you described the history of the 
problem in great detail." 

"That I did." 

"And you sympathized with them, 
gave them all kinds of examples." 

"I did that." 

"And you informed them how the 
legislature is involved in this issue." 

"But I said nothing because I com- 
mitted myself to nothing. I remained 
mute. My neutrality did not waver. I 
never attempt to guess how the legisla- 
ture or even one legislator will treat an 
issue; I only tell them how the legislator 
COULD or MIGHT treat an issue 
because nobody can predict how the 
legislature will vote. In this way I cannot 


be accused of lying to or misleading a 
constituent. A legislator can be con- 
vinced he will vote against legislation on 
one day, but that vote can be changed 
with a hastily scribbled memo from the 
Governor, a phone call from the Speak- 
er of the House, a snap of the finger of 
the Majority Leader, a look of disgust 
on the face of a committee chairman 
who needs one more vote in his favor. I 
am not in a position to explain the 
complexities of the legislative process to 
constituents because they would not 
understand, they would lose their en- 
thusiasm, and they could possibly lose 
their respect for all of us. Consequently, 
I describe the situation in the simplest 
terms so that there remains a vibrant 
connection between my explanation and 
their needs. If there has been legislation 
introduced that would address their 
complaint, I imply that by the stroke of 
someone's magic signature their prob- 
lem could be solved in a very, very short 
time — even by the following day— if I 
am clever enough to sufficiently excite 
them. I exclude the possibility of their 
problem never being solved; to achieve 
this, I do not mention this particular 

"And this is why you are the best 

letter writer in our office. You under- 
stand how the legislature works and 
you know how to convey this in simple 
terms for constituents." 

"Of course." 

Because I live only two blocks from 
the Capitol Building, I occasionally go 
home for lunch and sleep for two hours; 
most of the other writers in my office 
cannot afford the leisure of a two-hour 
lunch, but the fault is their own. They 
spend too much time with each assign- 
ment. They waste their time trying to 
find specific answers to some ridiculous 
questions asked by constituents who 
have nothing better to do than bother 
their legislator. These writers are still 
foolish and idealistic like I once was. 
They still feel the pain of the persons 
they attempt to soothe. When they learn 
the reality of politics, they will realize we 
do not write letters to help anyone; we 
write letters to keep constituents at least 
a snout's length away from the legisla- 
tor. We comfort nosy taxpayers so they 
never again threaten the sanctity of the 
incumbent. We offer hopeless persons 
hope so they never again write a letter to 
the politician we are trying to re-elect. 
Of course, the hope we offer is mostly 
false hope. Very often there is little hope 

at all, but where there is little hope I 
magnify that hope until it is only hope 
the constituent experiences. I inflict 
incremental braindeath on the constitu- 

I consider myself a swineherd and the 
public my swine. I call them my public 
piglets; my cute, roundbellied, enthusi- 
astically grunting piglets. I inflict a 
Nembutal haze on them and they give me 
a paycheck. I soothe them so their lives 
are less painful. Sometimes I wish there 
existed one constituent who would not 
give up, someone who would write one 
letter and then augment that with 
another and then another and another, 
refusing my injection of braindeath, 
refusing to be pacified, then become so 
outraged they would march to the 
Capitol and find my obscure office and 
follow the labyrinthine path to my 
obscure cubicle and take me by the hair 
of my head and shake me until I publicly 
promised to sit at my desk and write 
them a personal response to their ques- 

Sometimes I watch the door of my 
office and wait for this person to burst 
in. Then I laugh. It could never, ever 

—Mark Menkes 


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